Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports
For the first time in its six-year history in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Notre Dame will attempt to dig itself out of an 0-2 hole in league play.
In its conference opener, Syracuse recorded a 72-62 victory Saturday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion after taking control early in the second half and staving off several Fighting Irish comeback attempts. The Irish drop to 10-5 overall while Syracuse is now 10-4 and ends a two-game losing streak to Notre Dame.
Two aspects of the game led to Notre Dame’s defeat after holding a 38-37 halftime lead.
First, Notre Dame shot only 7 of 29 from the field (24.1 percent) in the final 20 minutes, including 4 of 16 (25 percent) from three-point range against the vaunted and lengthy 2-3 zone that extended well beyond the arc.
Fighting Irish junior guard T.J. Gibbs did connect on 6 of 13 from that distance, and most of them were well beyond NBA range. However, the rest of the team was only 5 of 20 (25 percent).
“I was disappointed we couldn’t find the same offensive rhythm in the second half,” said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey of the 24-point effort during that time. “Some men made some men plays for them, and we couldn’t withstand that for 40 minutes.”
The second part was that Syracuse entered the game shooting only 29.9 percent from three-point range — last among the 15 ACC teams — while making 6.7 per game. Against the Irish they were 12 of 29 for 41.4 percent.
Gibbs and sophomore D.J. Harvey drilled two threes apiece to help stake the Irish to an early 20-10 lead. The Orange didn’t regain the advantage until a 9-1 run led by Tyus Battle gave them a 31-29 edge. Led by Gibbs’ 12 points (4 of 8 from three-point range) and four assists, Notre Dame went into the halftime locker room with a 38-37 lead when freshman Nate Laszewski converted a three from the corner with one second remaining on a kick-out pass from Gibbs.
Both teams were effective from the three-point line in the first 20 minutes, converting seven apiece from that range.
The second half began with a 9-0 Syracuse run to build a 46-38 cushion while Notre Dame missed its first six field goal attempts. The Irish closed within 48-47 but were never able to recapture the lead. They came close again at 60-58 with 6:17 remaining after two Harvey free throws, but an Elijah Hughes three began a 7-0 spurt that had Syracuse ahead 67-58 with 2:09 left. Notre Dame managed to convert only one field goal in the final 7:03.
Hughes recorded career highs in points (22), rebounds (10) and threes (6 of 13) to pace the Orange, who also received clutch play from 6-8 Oshae Brissett (19 points, 11 rebounds) and the 6-6 Battle (17 points).
Junior John Mooney was a warrior for Notre Dame both in the high post and low post, finishing with 14 points and 14 rebounds, giving him a league high seventh double-double this season.
After experiencing a seven-game losing streak last year during an injury-ridden season that still saw the Irish vying for an NCAA Tournament bid in the final week of the regular season, Gibbs maintained the youth-laden Irish will continue to battle.
“The tide is going to turn,” Gibbs said. “It’s always going to turn around, and we’re ready for it.”
Notre Dame does not play again until hosting Boston College next Saturday at noon, at which time 1965-69 star Bob Whitmore will be celebrated for his induction into the Ring of Honor.