When it was all said and done, Syracuse was just toying with Notre Dame Thursday night.
It was quickly forgotten that the 25th-ranked Irish came into the game riding a four-game winning streak and scored the game’s first five points.
Syracuse’s opponent was also leading the country in fewest turnovers per game at 9.2 per game.
It didn’t matter to the streaking Orange, who outscored the Irish 23-1 over the next 10 minutes and forced nine first-half turnovers, setting the tone in a 81-66 victory in the crucial Atlantic Coast Conference matchup.
Syracuse is the definition of a bubble team this season, with some quality wins on the resume (UConn, Texas A&M, Duke), but also some games that will hurt come Selection Sunday (St. John’s). Prior to Thursday’s game, ESPN’s Bracketology had Syracuse in its “Next Four Out” section.
With the win against the Fighting Irish, Syracuse should be trending upward in that projection. It was just 10 days ago the Orange pulled out a two-point win over Duke.
Thursday night, Syracuse’s active ball-hawking zone defense unnerved the Irish early and often.
Trevor Cooney led SU with 22 points while Malachi Richardson, Mike Gbinije and Tyler Lyndon each had an impressive 15 points.
SU won the battle on the boards, 36-32. The Irish, however, were without leading scorer, Demetrius Jackson, who missed the game with an injury. His absence was noticeable as SU forced the Irish into erratic shots and miscues.
The Orange made a believer out of Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. While he wasn’t pleased with his team’s propensity for turning the ball over in the first half, he praised the Orange.
“Syracuse is an NCAA team,” Brey said afterwards, without hesitation. “They’ve got that look.”
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim credited his team’s defensive effort.
“We stepped up and made them take tough shots, “Boeheim said. “It starts with our defense and our defense was really good tonight.”
Lydon, the freshman forward-turned-center, was pivotal for the Orange in hauling down 10 rebounds to go with his 15 points. It was his most points in a game since his breakout performance in the Bahamas in late November.
After the gratifying win where he knocked down 3-of-6 beyond the arc, Lydon said it all came together against the Irish.
“In the heat of the moment,” he said, “we were just focused on what was going on.”
Lydon admitted was a much-needed “confidence boost” as Syracuse heads into its most crucial stretch of the season that will either send the Orange to the NCAA Tournament, or pull it down to an NIT bid.
Said Boeheim: “We still have a lot of work to do.”