South Bend, IN (SportsNetwork.com) - Looking to bolster their resume as the postseason approaches, the Syracuse Orange hit the road with an upset on their minds, as they take on the ninth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish in an ACC matchup at Purcell Pavilion on Tuesday.
Mike Brey's Irish are sitting all alone in second place in the conference standings at an impressive 12-3. They are still within striking distance of conference-leading Virginia (13-1) with three games to play. Notre Dame has won three straight and four of its last five games, including Saturday's 87-70 blasting of Boston College in Chestnut Hill. Purcell Pavilion has been a safe haven this season, with the Irish boasting of a 16-1 record at home.
Jim Boeheim's Orange can still make some noise and secure one of the top four seeds in the upcoming ACC Tournament, but the team will need to start winning on a more consistent basis down the stretch. Syracuse has alternated wins and losses over its last six games and enters this contest off of Saturday's 65-61 home loss to Pittsburgh. The loss to the Panthers leaves the Orange at 8-6 in the ACC, currently good for sixth-place in the standings.
Syracuse holds a 26-19 lead in the series with Notre Dame and has won five of the last six meetings. The Irish have won three of the last four matchups in South Bend, however.
The Orange battled back from a nine-point deficit late against Pitt to pull within a single point, but couldn't get past the Panthers and into the win column at home. Star big man Rakeem Christmas was once again extremely productive in the loss, posting yet another double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Michael Gbinije and B.J. Johnson added 12 and 11 points, respectively. Syracuse shot a modest .429 from the field, while allowing Pitt to connect on half of its shots (26-of-52).
The 6-foot-9 Christmas has emerged as one of the ACC's best big men. He is shooting .576 from the field overall and is averaging 18.2 points (second in the league) and 9.2 rebounds (fifth in the league) per game. Scoring depth comes in the form of Trevor Cooney (13.6 ppg) and Gbinije (13.0 ppg) for Syracuse, which nets 69.4 ppg. The team still relies heavily on strong defense, limiting foes to just 63.0 ppg on .402 shooting.
That defense will be put to the test against one of the nation's most explosive and efficient teams. Notre Dame comes into this game ranked second in the nation in field-goal percentage (.513) and ninth in scoring (79.8 ppg). Everything Notre Dame does feeds off of the play of All- America candidate Jerian Grant. The veteran playmaker is shooting .503 from the floor and ranks fifth in the league in scoring (17.0 ppg) and first in assists (6.7 apg). It is by far a one-man show in South Bend, as other key contributors include Pat Connaughton (13.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Zach Auguste (12.7 ppg) and Demetrius Jackson (12.5 ppg). Further depth comes in the form of players like Steve Vasturia (9.4 ppg) and V.J. Beachem (7.6 ppg).
Boston College shot a solid .491 from the floor, but still suffered a 17-point defeat at the hands of the Irish, who shot an impressive .660 from the floor, including a scorching .750 in the second half to break the game wide open. Six players notched double figures in the scoring eruption for Notre Dame, led by Bonzie Colson's 16 points off the bench. Jackson added 15 points, followed by Auguste (14 pts). Grant (10 pts), Vasturia (10 pts) and Beachem (10 pts). Grant completed a double-double with 11 assists.