Upset bid falls short for Notre Dame men

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Once the sixth or seventh or eighth offering from distance dropped, Notre Dame power forward Garrick Sherman turned to the guy with such a smooth shot on the nation's top-ranked team Monday and wondered aloud.

When, Sherman asked Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney, would he finally miss one? Would he miss one?

Cooney didn't miss many and was the main reason why the Orange remain undefeated following his massive night. Cooney connected on 11 of 15 shots from the field and nine of 12 from 3 for a career-high 33 points in a 61-55 victory over upset-minded Notre Dame at the Carrier Dome.

Cooney's nine 3s tied the school record for Syracuse, which improved to 22-0, 9-0 ACC.

"I guess he didn't feel like missing one tonight," Sherman said. "He played great. Props to him."

"I got into a good rhythm early," said Cooney, who hit four 3s in the first 12:12. "To shoot like this, you've got to get into a good rhythm early. Teammates found me in good spots and I was just able to get going."

Freshman Steve Vasturia scored 13 points in 37 minutes -- both career highs -- for the Irish, who have lost seven of nine to fall to 12-11, 3-7.

"I just got some open looks, and their zone is tough," Vasturia said. "We were told if we had an open look, knock it down. I was just happy to make an impact."

Vasturia was 5-of-9 from the field.

Notre Dame is 0-5 on the road in league play. The Irish had been in every one of their previous four league road games, but lost each by an average of 5.5 points. It looked like this one would get away from Notre Dame, which trailed by 13 at the break.

But the Irish climbed back into it by going old, going big and getting going on offense. Ninety seconds into the second half, out went sophomore power forward Zach Auguste. In came fifth-year senior Tom Knight. Out went the zone, in went man defense with a little dose of box-and-one.

And down, down, down went the Irish deficit.

"Those were the four old guys and a freshman who was playing like an old guy," said Irish coach Mike Brey. "I tell you what, Steve Vasturia was fabulous in that atmosphere. I'm really impressed with him."

After Knight checked in 90 seconds into the second half, Brey made only one substitution -- and that for offense-defense purposes -- the rest of the way.

"It was one of those things, that lineup was going good, we were going to ride 'em," Brey said. "If we were going to escape with it, we were going to have to ride that group."

After scoring only 18 points in the first half, the Irish found a good flow to go for 22 in the first 12:12 of the second. And when Knight delivered a two-handed dunk, it was a one-possession game (43-40) with 8:42 left. That's as close as Notre Dame would get. Just over three minutes later, after another Cooney 3 before his old-fashioned three-point play, Syracuse was back up by 10.

"There was no way Notre Dame was going to come out and play poorly offensively the second half," said Orange coach Jim Boeheim. "I think Notre Dame did what they do to us every year. You have to find a way."

Notre Dame twice got as close as five in the final 2:52.

"It was just competing," Sherman said of making a whole lot of people in the Dome sweat this one out. "We really locked in defensively. It was the best defense we've played consistently in back-to-back possessions -- really consistently strung them together -- that we've done all year."

Off to its best start in school history and leading the ACC in its first season in its new league, Syracuse was back on the floor some 46 hours after one of the most-anticipated regular-season games in college basketball history lived up to its billing. An NCAA on-campus record crowd of 35,446 saw Syracuse beat No. 11 Duke in overtime, 91-89, on Saturday. Even a day after that epic, there were still "Beat Duke!" signs hanging around Hancock International Airport.

The Irish thought that if they stayed patient with the plan and didn't allow the Orange to enjoy the open floor, they would have a chance. "I thought we hung in there and had our opportunities," Vasturia said. "We could have made some shots at the end."

The Orange weekend hangover was supposed to put the Irish in position to do the impossible -- beat a top-ranked team on the road for the first time in school history. Notre Dame was 0-10 away from home against No. 1 teams.

All eight of its victories against AP No. 1s came at home. Most recently, Notre Dame beat No. 1 and previously undefeated Syracuse, 67-58, on Jan. 21, 2012.

The first road win over a top-ranked team would have to wait. The effort was there; the end result not so much.

"We did believe that we had a chance," said Irish guard Eric Atkins. "We wanted to limit them in transition. When they get going in transition, they're really a scary team to play against."

Syracuse managed only seven fast-break points and 16 points in the paint.

"We just couldn't do a good enough job on Cooney," Brey said. "He was just in one of those zones. It's kind of hard to absorb nine of them from that guy."

Monday marked the first time since Jan. 12, 1999 that Notre Dame played a top-ranked team in a true road game. That year, the Irish lost by 31 points in Hartford to No. 1 Connecticut. The game also marked the last time Notre Dame failed to make at least one 3-pointer.

Its 3-point streak hit an even 500 games Monday when Vasturia connected less than five minutes in for an 8-6 lead.

Another loss doesn't sit well with anyone Irish, but Vasturia's effort was something for Brey to feel good about leaving Central New York.

"Those older guys have really pumped him up and made him feel like he's part of it," Brey said. "When I looked out at Steve Vasturia, I thought I was looking at a junior guard attacking stuff, getting into the paint, defending, keeping his chest on people."

NOTRE DAME (12-11): Pat Connaughton 3-10 3-3 11, Zach Auguste 0-2 0-2 0, Steve Vasturia 5-9 1-1 13, Eric Atkins 3-10 1-2 9, Garrick Sherman 6-12 4-6 16, V.J. Beachem 1-2 0-0 2, Demetrius Jackson 0-1 0-0 0, Tom Knight 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 20-49 9-14 55.

SYRACUSE (22-0): Jerami Grant 3-8 3-4 9, C.J. Fair 2-13 2-3 6, Rakeem Christmas 1-2 0-0 2, Trevor Cooney 11-15 2-3 33, Tyler Ennis 2-5 2-3 6, Michael Gbinije 1-1 0-0 3, Baye Moussa Keita 0-2 0-0 0, Tyler Roberson 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 21-47 9-13 61.

Halftime -- Syracuse 31-18. 3-Point Goals -- Notre Dame 6-18 (Vasturia 2-3, Atkins 2-7, Connaughton 2-7, Beachem 0-1), Syracuse 10-16 (Cooney 9-12, Gbinije 1-1, Ennis 0-1, Fair 0-2). Fouled Out -- Christmas. Rebounds -- Notre Dame 33 (Connaughton, Sherman 8), Syracuse 28 (Christmas 6). Assists -- Notre Dame 12 (Atkins 6), Syracuse 16 (Ennis 8). Total Fouls -- Notre Dame 15, Syracuse 15. A -- 25,850.

Syracuse's Jerami Grant grabs a rebound against Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton, left, and Demetrius Jackson, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Monday, Feb. 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)