Syracuse defense forces Notre Dame to shoot poorly in upset

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Syracuse upset No. 9 Notre Dame

For the second time in a week, an undermanned Syracuse team knocked off a ranked foe through a strong defensive effort. This time, #8 Notre Dame was the victim, as the Orange (18-10, 9-6 ACC) held them to under 35 percent shooting en route to grabbing 65-60 road win. SU held the Irish (24-5, 12-4), who entered the game as the 12th-best three-point shooting team in the nation, to a paltry 3-of-22 from beyond the arc.

The tough three-point defense helped out greatly, as Syracuse was without the services of center Rakeem Christmas for long portions of the game. Christmas went to the bench for the final 6:53 of the first half with three fouls and was disqualified with 5:18 left in the game.

The Orange were not particularly good on offense, shooting just a shade over 40 percent in the game. What SU did get was some timely shooting from Trevor Cooney, who had nine straight points late in the game, and B.J. Johnson, who kept the team afloat for large portions of the contest.

Rakeem Christmas opened the scoring on the night by dunking home a pass from Kaleb Joseph, then Michael Gbinije buried a three from the left corner for an early 5-0 Orange lead. Notre Dame came back with the next seven points of the game to take what would prove to be their lone lead of the game.

Joseph found Ron Patterson on a baseline cut for a two-handed dunk to stop an SU dry spell, then dropped in a foul shot to put the Orange back in front. Two possessions later, Trevor Cooney buried a pull-up, then Christmas followed his own miss while being fouled for the 1,000th point of his career at Syracuse. The big man’s free throw made it eight straight points and gave the Orange a 13-7 lead with less than eight minutes off the clock.

The Irish clipped the margin to four points a couple of times, but Tyler Roberson made a nice high post entry pass to Christmas for a dunk, then added on a free throw a couple possessions later to put SU in front, 20-13, with just over seven minutes left in the half.

While their defense was holding Notre Dame without a field goal, the Syracuse offense could not really take advantage. Following a pair of ND free throws, B.J. Johnson went on a personal 7-2 run.

First, Johnson buried a triple from the left corner, then added a long two-point jumper, also from the left side, to push the Orange lead to 25-15. The Fighting Irish got another pair of free throws to cut into the lead, but Johnson matched that score by following his own miss to make it 27-17.

That would prove to be the last score of the half for the Syracuse. Notre Dame would cut into the lead before the break, getting a pair of foul shots and a three-point-play to shave the SU lead to 27-22. Johnson would get a last second look for the Orange but missed a three-pointer from the right wing just before the buzzer.

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Syracuse would continue their dry spell in the opening minutes of the second half, stretching the scoreless streak to over five-and-a-half minutes. Meanwhile, the Irish would chip away some more with a pair of scores, making it a 27-26 game.

Nearly four minutes into the second half, Gbinije stole the ball and turned it into a breakaway jam to get the Orange on the board. Christmas followed a missed Cooney three on the next SU trip to put them up, 31-26. Johnson then made it three consecutive successful possessions, splashing a three to make the Syracuse lead a half dozen at 34-28.

Two Notre Dame possessions later, Christmas committed his fourth foul of the night and the free throws made it 34-32. Gbinije made a pair of foul shots for the Orange, then followed an ND free throw by going coast-to-coast for a lay-in and a 38-33 lead.

Christmas, who never left the game after getting his fourth foul, was instrumental in a run of six straight SU points that stretched their lead to nine points. Following a Notre Dame lay-up, the center hit Patterson on a baseline cut for a two-handed slam. Christmas then converted a fast break lob pass into a lay-up, then later dropped in two from the line to give Syracuse a 44-35 lead just pass the midpoint of the second half.

The Orange held ND at arm’s length for the next few minutes, but Christmas was whistled for his fifth infraction with 5:18 on the clock. The Fighting Irish took advantage, making the free throws following the final Christmas foul, then added a lay-in to pull within 49-45.

Trevor Cooney, who had been quiet most of the night until hitting a tough fadeaway just before the fifth whistle on Christmas, kept Syracuse in front for the next four minutes. First, he splashed a contested rainbow jumper from the left corner (it had originally been ruled a three, but was later changed to a two-pointer in an officials’ review) to put the Orange up by six with over four minutes left.

Notre Dame scored a pair of buckets in under a minute to shave the margin to two points. Cooney missed a three-point try, but Chinonso Obokoh collected the offensive rebound and kicked the ball out to reset the offense. The board work paid off when Cooney drained a 28-footer from just right of the top of the key. The shot, which slid through the net as the shot clock flipped to one second, pushed the Syracuse lead to 54-49 with just over two minutes to play.

Cooney then grabbed a rebound on the defensive end and drove the left side for a lay-up to stretch the lead to seven.

Notre Dame struck back with a pair of foul shots, but Gbinije dropped in one of his own. The Fighting Irish proved worthy of their name, connecting on a quick three and calling timeout with 43 seconds to play and the Orange leading, 57-54.

Johnson was fouled on the inbounds pass and made both shots to nudge the SU lead to five. Notre Dame roared down the court and drew a foul on Patterson on a three-point-shot. A trio of free throws later, ND was down 59-57.

The Irish set up their full-court press, but Syracuse broke it easily with a long pass to Johnson, who drove in and dunked while being fouled. Johnson’s free throw made it 62-57 in favor of SU.

The Irish drew another foul, this time making only the first shot. Gbinije gathered the missed second attempt and was fouled with 22.2 seconds to play. He connected on both shots to give the Orange a 64-58 lead.

Notre Dame drew another foul, this one coming in the rebounding action after a missed three, and made both to make it a four-point game.

Syracuse again broke the press with a long pass, this time the ball finding Joseph. Joseph pulled the ball out to dribble off some clock and was fouled with 14.6 seconds remaining. The point guard made the first, then missed the second.

Trailing by five, ND tried a long trey, but missed and Obokoh snared the rebound and was fouled. Obokoh missed both foul shots, but one missed three-point try later, Johnson had another rebound and the Irish permitted the clock to run out, giving the Orange the victory.

B.J. Johnson led all scorers on the night, finishing with a personal-best 19 points off the SU bench. Rakeem Christmas was a load, posting his 11th double-double of the year with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Michael Gbinije had a dozen points and six steals while Trevor Cooney had 11 points.

Bonzie Colson poured in 16 points off the bench for the Irish, who, like the Orange, had four players in double digits. Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant each had 13 points, the former grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds and the latter handing out nine assists. Zach Auguste chipped in with ten points.

The slate does not let up for SU, as their next game is at #5 Duke. It is the second matchup of the season between the Orange and the Blue Devils (24-3, 11-3), who won the opener between the two teams at the Carrier Dome two weeks earlier, 80-72.

Michael Gbinije led all scorers with 27 points for the Orange in the first matchup while Tyler Roberson backed him up with his best game for Syracuse, posting a double-double of 19 points and ten rebounds. Superstar freshman Jahlil Okafor had 23 points and 13 boards for Duke in the game, while Quinn Cook added 17 points.

As usual when Syracuse and Duke get together, ESPN will televise the game, which has a listed 7:00pm Eastern tip time. In addition, the telecast can also be streamed at ESPN3.com.

For more Syracuse coverage, Like our Facebook page and follow us @TheJuiceOnline.

Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
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