Notre Dame looked like a team that could cause Syracuse some problems. Earlier in the week, the Fighting Irish knocked off a top-10 team in Georgetown with ease, 69-55.
Aside from that, it came into the game with five players, shooting 34 percent or better from 3-point range, and three of those players are 6’7 or taller; the Fighting Irish is a great defensive team, holding opponents to an average of 63 points per game; it’s patient on offense and doesn’t force many bad shots; and it protects the ball, averaging just 10 turnovers per game.
And throughout the first half and the beginning of the second half, Notre Dame gave Syracuse quite a game.
Notre Dame controlled the pace throughout the first half. It was patient on offense and didn’t force 3-pointers like most teams do when facing the 2-3 zone; it took care of the ball and didn’t allow the Orange to get out in transition; and while its defense was very good, the Orange did its part with both poor shooting and poor shot selection.
Syracuse shot 43 percent in the first half and didn’t even hit a shot until more than four minutes had elapsed. Notre Dame didn’t allow the Orange to have any open looks while still being able to double Rick Jackson in the post.
But the game turned in Cuse’s favor due to a change on the defensive end. Rick Jackson had a season-low 5 rebounds and just 12 points, but when he moved from playing forward to playing center, it completely changed the game.
Baye Keita just wasn’t big enough to protect the middle against the likes of Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott, and after Nash bullied his way to an easy layup to tie the game at 44, Boeheim made the switch.
Keita came out, James Southerland came in, and Jackson moved to the center spot. Jackson had a career-high six blocks and shut down Notre Dame’s inside game while managing to pick up just one personal foul. The Irish was averaging 27.6 free throw attempts per game but was limited to just seven Saturday.
Not having to worry about helping out inside, the other defenders were able to play the passing lanes and create turnovers. The Orange went on a 19-3 run, in which Notre Dame turned the ball over five times.
“Anytime you turn it over, it’s a [fast-break] for them,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “I don’t think you can physically get back — at least we couldn’t. Any turnover in the second half was so devastating for us because it was converted.”
Brey’s not quite right with that last part. Syracuse didn’t score off of Notre Dame’s final two turnovers, but it did score on its 12 other turnovers for a total of 22 points. These turnovers led to easy buckets that helped Syracuse shoot 56 percent in the second half.
It was the Orange’s most complete game so far this season as it improves to 15-0 with the 70-58 victory.
– James Southerland continues to work his way into the lineup and is finally living up to fans’ expectations. He hit on five of his seven shot attempts including two of four from distance. He also added three steals and one block. Now, if he can just learn to drive to the hoop, he will be nearly unstoppable.
– All season Boeheim has been dogging Dion Waiters about his defense and praising his offense, but last night he was a major contributor on defense and had a poor offensive performance. He had a couple of steals and didn’t allow open 3-point shots, but on the other end he forced some bad shots on his way to a 2-for-7 night. I’ve actually been fairly impressed with his defensive efforts and believe Boeheim has been extra tough on him so he’ll keep working on that part of his game.
– A few times this season, Boeheim has said the point guard is whoever has the ball, but after the game he said this about Scoop: “He’s really the only point guard we really have. The other two guys can handle the ball, but Scoop’s really a point guard that makes plays.” I bring this up because Brandon Triche played just 18 minutes Saturday compared to Waiters, who played 26 minutes. Is Triche falling out of favor with Boeheim? “Brandon had a really good first half and got off to a slow start in the second half, but that’s alright,” said Boeheim. “We got three guys who can play back there, and that’s a good thing.”
Robbie Gillies is a senior columnist for The Juice Online. He is also an editor at Real Clear Sports. See more at http://www.realclearsports.com/