Just hours after having been crowned #1 in the nation in the polls and less than 48 hours after outlasting Duke, Syracuse took to their home floor to defend that honor against Notre Dame. Successfully defending that honor took everything Trevor Cooney could give, as he poured in a career-high 33 points, including hitting a personal-best nine three-point shots to propel the Orange (22-0, 9-0 ACC) to a 61-55 victory over the Fighting Irish (12-11, 3-7).
The SU defense was stifling once again, holding the Irish to under 39 percent from the field. The Orange held the visitors to 18 points in the first half, the least they had permitted in any half on the season.
The Syracuse offense started the game in fits and starts, turning the ball over three times in the game’s opening five minutes, but still managing to stay within 8-6 in that time. Trevor Cooney then stepped to the forefront for the Orange, blistering the nets for four three-pointers, the last two from well beyond the line.
The final three of those triples from Cooney were the foundation of a 13-0 run for SU. After Cooney added a jump shot to make it 14 straight points for SU, C.J. Fair ended the burst with a nifty step-through for a bucket, granting the Orange a 22-12 lead with under six minutes left in the opening half. When Notre Dame scored on the ensuing possession, it ended a scoreless streak of nearly seven minutes.
The Irish added another bucket to cut the margin to six, but Michael Gbinije hit a three off the bench and a Syracuse free throw reinstated the lead at ten. A pair of Notre Dame free throws drew the visitors within eight, but Rakeem Christmas threw down a stuff and Cooney added his fifth three-ball of the opening half a few ticks before the horn for a 31-18 Syracuse lead at the break.
Early in the second half, Notre Dame climbed back within seven after scoring on two straight possessions. After the Orange forced a turnover on the next possession, Jerami Grant brought the crowd into the game by throwing down a fast break alley-oop from Tyler Ennis for a 38-29 lead with just under five minutes off the clock.
Shortly after that, Fair threw down a putback dunk and Cooney dropped in yet another trey, stretching the lead back to 11 at 43-32. Notre Dame would not go away, however, using a three-point-play and a triple on their next two trips down to narrow the margin to five. After calling a timeout, the Irish scored again to make it an 8-0 run and get within 43-40.
Grant stopped the run for the Orange with a little flip in the lane that slid through the net. After an Irish foul shot, Cooney got an open look at the rim and ripped the twine for three again, then got open on a backdoor cut for a lay-up and foul. The free throw pushed Syracuse to a 51-41 lead with just over five minutes to go.
The Irish got a three to slice into the lead, but Cooney curled around the arc, caught a pass, and immediately splashed another trey to make it a ten-point game again. Again Notre Dame showed their resiliency, netting a pair of foul shots and a three-point-play to halve the lead with under three minutes left.
Two possessions later, Grant showed patience and a deft touch down low, knifing through the Irish defense and dropping the ball through the hoop to stretch the Orange lead to 56-49 with under 90 seconds left.
After a Fighting Irish free throw, Ennis hit two of his own to push the lead to eight. Undeterred, Notre Dame connected on a three to climb back within 58-53 with 41 seconds remaining.
Ennis proved to be human late in a game, missing the front end of a one-and-one, but Notre Dame could not exploit the opening. Fair pulled down a big rebound and was fouled, but he also drew iron on a free throw.
Granted another chance, again the Irish could not make SU pay, missing a long three. Grant was fouled and it was deemed intentional. Grant made both shots and on the ensuing possession, Cooney drew a whistle, then made one free throw to make it an eight-point lead. The Irish got a short jumper as the buzzer expired, but that only made it a 61-55 final.
Trevor Cooney simply was unconscious. After missing his first three-pointer, the redshirt sophomore connected on 11-of-14 field goals the rest of the way, including hitting 9-of-12 from three-point range overall. Cooney also put forth a strong effort on the defensive end, complementing his 33 points with four steals.
Jerami Grant was second on the Orange in scoring with nine points. Tyler Ennis had eight assists in the game. Two nights after turning in an unforgettable performance against Duke, C.J. Fair struggled immensely, making only 2-of-13 tries from the field.
Garrick Sherman lad Notre Dame with 16 points. Steve Vasturia added 13 while Pat Connaughton chipped in with 11.
Now halfway finished with their first trip through ACC play, SU closes their three-game homestand on Sunday when Clemson comes to town. The Tigers (14-6, 5-3) will host Georgia Tech on Tuesday prior to their matchup with the Orange. Clemson has won four of their last six contests in the ACC, highlighted by a win over Duke.
Clemson plays a slow, grinding style and is second in the nation in points allowed. As a result, only K.J. McDaniels is averaging double figures in scoring at 16.7 points per game. McDaniels also leads the squad in rebounding and blocks with 7.1 boards and 2.7 swats a night.
Tip-off is set for 6:00pm Eastern and the television coverage will be provided by ESPNU. The game can also be seen online at ESPN3.com or through the WatchESPN app.