Notre Dame falls at Syracuse 55-61

Eric Atkins doing what he can to contain the hot hand of Trevor Cooney - Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The fight was definitely back in the Fighting Irish on Monday night. Notre Dame put up a valiant effort versus the top-ranked Syracuse Orange, but fell short of pulling off the stunning upset.

I tweeted before the game that if Notre Dame pulled off the improbably upset on the road, Mike Brey deserved his own FIDM special titled 22-1. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Notre Dame opened the night with great promise. The Irish 2-3 zone was effective vs. the Orange for the first 8 minutes of the game. The guards were using great ball pressure and all 5 guys were hitting the defensive glass to keep Syracuse off guard. Sure, there were the usual ball handling snafus and turnovers, but the Irish made it through the first 2 media timeouts with the lead and a decent game plan.

Sadly, for Irish fans, Syracuse's Trevor Cooney quickly put the Irish in a bind. With 5-7 shooting from behind the line and 17 first half points, Cooney powered the Orange to a 31-18 halftime lead. Once again, the Irish suffered a long scoring drought in the first half, going 6+ minutes without a point. Fifty percent foul shooting also reared its ugly head again, and Notre Dame faced yet another massive halftime hole on the road in the ACC. As Cooney shot the Irish out of their 2-3 zone, Syracuse was able to leverage their superior athleticism to build a significant lead over Mike Brey's squad

The Irish did, of course, give fans some hope as they opened the second half well. The Irish managed to get it down to 6 but another stretch of sloppiness with the ball and easy transition baskets for Syracuse, allowed them to quickly rebuild a double digit lead. A live ball turnover by the Irish led to a Trevor Cooney 3, and suddenly ND was back down 11. As Jay Bilas said going in to the under 12 media stoppage, "you might as well count it" when Cooney got a clean look at a 3.

Amazingly, the Irish got some significant stops and hit some big shots through the middle of the second half and found themselves down only 5 when Mike Brey called timeout with 9 minutes left in the 2nd half. Coming out of that timeout, Eric Atkins made a perfect pass on the screen and roll to Tom Knight for a powerful 2 handed finish at the rim. It was a masterful bit of coaching from Mike Brey and the Irish staff.

Then, at the 5 minute mark, it all appeared to fall apart.  Garrick Sherman missed a FT, then ND loses Cooney at the 3 point line. After yet another ND turnover, Cooney gets a 3 point play and puts Syracuse back up 10. Even with Demetrius Jackson tagging Cooney, he still managed to drop in a massive 3 pointer at the 4:00 mark to keep Syracuse comfortably in front. The Irish went in to the final media timeout down 10 with Sherman at the line shooting 2. Thankfully, Sherman managed to convert both FT's, and after a good stop, Pat Connaughton made a great up-and-under move to score and convert the and-1 to cut the deficit to 5 with 2:45 to play. Unfortunately, the only look the Irish managed to get on the ensuing offensive trip was a deep 3 that Atkins ended up missing. Jim Boeheim put his team in to a shell, and they managed to run the clock down effectively. The Irish stepped out of a Syracuse timeout at 1:42 down 5, desparately needing a stop. Mike Brey's squad tried to draw up a box-in-one defense in the dirt during the timeout and Jerami Grant was able to get inside of Sherman to extend the lead to 7 with just under a minute and a half remaining. Syracuse managed to lock down their 2-3 zone and force an ND miss. In a situation I never thought I'd write this season, the Irish got a huge call on the ensuing rebound, but Atkins could only convert the front end of the 1-and-1. Despite some attempted heroics by Connaughton, and some uncharacteristic missed FT's by the Orange, the Irish were cooked.

Pouring through the box score, you see evidence of a close game.  The Irish attempted 1 extra FT, despite having to foul at the end, and both teams made 9 FT on the night.  The Irish did commit 12 turnovers to Syracuse's 10, but much of that advantage was negated by Notre Dame out rebounding Syracuse 33-28 overall and 13-9 on the offensive glass. The big difference in the Carrier Dome Monday was shooting.  In fact, the Irish attempted 2 more total FG's on the night, but it wasn't enough to overcome Syracuse's 55% to 47% advantage in eFG.  The eFG difference was driven by Syracuse's 10-16 performance from behind the arc, driven primarily by Cooney's 9-12 performance.  The Syracuse sophomore was on fire, technically shooting an "above perfect" 103% eFG on the night.  Without Cooney, the Orange were a dismal 10-32 from the floor and only a 33% eFG.  One man truly can make the difference in college hoops, and tonight was Cooney's night.

On the Irish side of the ledger, Sherman turned in another 50% shooting night and pulled down 8 boards, but he also was pushed around under the defensive glass on several occasions.  His 4 turnovers also proved costly.  Eric Atkins and Pat Connaughton combined to go 6-20 form the floor and 4-14 from 3.  Once again, 40% eFG from these two spells trouble for the Irish.  However, Atkins had his best night taking care of the basketball and put up 6 assists without a single turnover.  The offensive bright spot of the evening was freshman Steve Vasturia.  His career-high 13 points was second behind Sherman's 16, and drew raves from ESPN's Sean McDonough and Jay Bilas.  McDonough noted Vasturia's ability to raise his level of play vs. top competition, something that bodes well for the young freshman.

To their credit, the Irish certainly tangled with the #1 team in the land, but in a season of struggles, the Irish didn't have the upset in them. A 6 point loss on the road to a team on a 21 (now 22) game streak was a decent showing on ESPN, but it leaves Notre Dame at 3-7 in the ACC with a home date vs. the UNC Tarheels on Saturday to look forward to.

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