Published February 04, 2013
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – When Jack Cooley scored two straight times early in the second half for Notre Dame, the Irish seemed to have found a chink in the armor of Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense.
It was one of the few openings the Irish found in a game when their long-range shooters misfired too often, and the ninth-ranked Orange beat No. 25 Notre Dame 63-47 on Monday night.
Notre Dame finished 6 of 20 on 3-pointers — 2 of 11 in the second half — and shot 34.6 percent (18 of 52) for the game as the Orange outrebounded the Irish 32-28 and blocked seven shots.
It matched the season low in points for the Irish, who were held to 47 in a home loss two weeks ago to Georgetown. Notre Dame also committed 12 turnovers that led to 16 Syracuse points.
"It feels like we had 20-something turnovers," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who remained tied for fourth with former St. John's mentor Lou Carnesecca at 139 wins in the Big East. "We've got to make some more of those shots to escape here. When we've had success against them, we've made more 3s. But that's not necessarily us missing. They have such length because their guards are so big this year. They come out and close out. It's a rough shot.
"We fought, we battled, we tried. But we needed to get into a better scoring rhythm. It was hard against them tonight because of the way they defended."
C.J. Fair had 18 points and 10 rebounds and freshman Jerami Grant scored a season-high 14 points for the Orange, who snapped a two-game losing streak that had dropped them three spots in the rankings.
Syracuse (19-3, 7-2 Big East) was coming off consecutive road losses against Villanova and Pittsburgh and has only three conference losses in its last 32 Big East games. The Orange have now won a school-record 36 straight games at home, the longest active streak in Division I. Notre Dame (18-5, 6-4) had won three straight.
It was the first meeting between the teams since the Irish handed Syracuse its only conference loss last season, 67-58 at Purcell Pavilion last January. The Orange, unbeaten at the time and ranked No. 1, were missing shot-blocking, 7-foot center Fab Melo in that game because of an academic issue, and on Monday night senior James Southerland, the team's most consistent outside threat and third-leading scorer, missed his sixth straight game because of an eligibility matter related to academics. Southerland had 15 points in the loss to the Irish last year.
Gone, too, from the Orange lineup was 6-foot-9, 288-pound freshman forward Dajuan Coleman, out for a month after knee surgery.
On this night, it didn't matter as the Syracuse defense clamped down behind its front line of Fair, Jerami Grant and Rakeem Christmas, who combined for 44 points, six blocks, and 21 rebounds. They also teamed to help limit the touches of Cooley in the middle while the Orange's perimeter defenders held their own against the Irish sharpshooters.
The 6-foot-9, 246-pound Cooley, a major force as the Irish outrebounded the Orange by 13 in last year's game, finished with a very quiet 10 points and 11 rebounds, his 15th double-double of the season.
"We couldn't get the ball down deep enough," Brey said. "They really pushed us out."
Jerian Grant, Jerami's brother, finished with 15 points to lead the Irish in their first college game against one another.
"The 50-50 balls rolling on the ground, somehow it seemed like they'd pick them up and get a basket when we really needed a stop," Jerian said. "We couldn't get to those balls when we needed to. We had great looks, but their zone, you're going to have to make shots. Tonight we didn't do it, and we weren't really in striking distance.
"I told him (Jerami) congratulations. But I told him I really hope we see them again."
Notre Dame guards Grant and Eric Atkins had nine assists and eight turnovers between them. Not a good omen for a team that entered the game ranked first nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.74).
"For those guys to have eight turnovers, it's going to be hard for us," Brey said. "It was hard to flatten out that thing tonight. Those are the nights we usually don't have success. They (Syracuse) obviously had lost two in a row and were juiced up."
Syracuse stretched its 30-24 halftime lead to 10 in the opening minutes of the second. Christmas hit a foul-line jumper at the shot-clock buzzer after corraling the rebound of a miss by Michael Carter-Williams and Fair followed with a dunk off a steal by Carter-Williams.
Christmas then converted a follow dunk off a miss by Brandon Triche, Trevor Cooney sank a 3 from the wing, and Christmas hit again off the glass to complete a 13-4 burst spanning halftime and boost the lead to 43-28 with 11:05 left.
Cameron Biedscheid stopped the Syracuse surge with a 3 from the left corner and Jerian Grant converted a three-point play to move the Irish back within 43-34 with 10 minutes left.
Syracuse stretched it back to 48-35 on a 3 by Carter-Williams with 6:02 remaining and the Irish were finished as the Orange went 8 for 8 on free throws in the closing minutes.
"I thought if we could just hold the fort on the defensive end, on the backboard, maybe we'd make some shots and score a little," Brey said. "But then they started pounding us on the boards and we couldn't even make shots with a small lineup."
Syracuse entered the game limiting opponents to 32.3 percent shooting on 3-pointers while Notre Dame was hitting 39.6 percent from behind the arc.