Short-handed Notre Dame finds a way to steal ACC road win

Tribune Staff Report
ND Insider

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Fitting that an offensive rebound won an Atlantic Coast Conference road game on a day when little else went right for Notre Dame.

Until everything did.

Trailing on a fast break but closing quickly as time wound down, junior guard Rex Pflueger followed a missed layup from T.J. Gibbs with 2.6 seconds left in a tie game as the Irish, minus their top two scorers, escaped with a 51-49 victory over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

"I've been at Notre Dame 18 years and got a lot of good wins," coach Mike Brey said. "This is as good a win, given that I've got Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell sitting back in their apartment in South Bend. I couldn't be prouder of a group."

Notre Dame moves to 13-3 and 3-0 in the ACC for a second-straight season.

The Irish finished with a season-high 21 offensive rebounds. Gibbs scored 18 points with four rebounds and four assists. Pflueger added 12 points and seven rebounds.

"I thought our defense and rebounding was the difference," Brey said. "A lot of our young, inexperienced guys in a tough atmosphere played well.

"I'm kind of digging this defending and rebounding thing."

Notre Dame won the rebounding battle for the third-straight league game (42-27) and limited Syracuse to 39.1 percent shooting.

Ugly and rather forgettable for most of the afternoon, this one got wild in the final few minutes after the Irish trailed by as many as 11.

Gibbs, who was really good all day, gave the Irish their first lead (45-44) since it was 1-0 with a pair of free throws with 2:25 remaining. A Martinas Geben rebound follow pushed the advantage to three, 47-44. It fell back to one on a Tyus Battle bucket, then jumped back to three following two Elijah Burns free throws. Battle then tied it with a 3 at 49 with 48.6 seconds remaining.

Syracuse had a chance to win it with under 10 seconds remaining on the shot and game clocks. But Geben mustered a steal of Battle and threw ahead to Gibbs. Trailing the play, Pflueger followed the miss with an off-balance lay-in.

Ball game.

Geben finished with a career-high 14 rebounds.

The win snapped a five-game losing streak stretching over a decade at the Carrier Dome.

How this one was ever close defies any logical explanation.

Notre Dame missed its first 10 shots and 14 of 15, but still had a chance to take an early lead only to see a Pflueger 3 go long. Gibbs had the only two Irish baskets the first 10:15. The Irish couldn’t make shots, couldn’t make free throws, couldn’t collectively get back on defense. And despite all that, they were down only seven with just over seven minutes remaining in the first half.

With 6:36 left in the first 20, Notre Dame was shooting 14.3 percent from the field (3-of-21), 12.5 percent from 3 (1-of-8) and 25 percent from the foul line (1-of-4).

Gibbs was the Irish offense early. He scored 10 of their first 15 points.

Notre Dame finished the first half with a season-low 19 points after going for a season-high 48 earlier in the week against North Carolina State. It was its second-lowest point total in a first half in an ACC game. The lowest is 18 set against. … Syracuse.

Ooof.

Gibbs scored 14 points in the first half. The other seven Irish? Five. He made five of his 10 shots. The rest of the Irish? They made one of 19.

Double ooof.

"We somehow survived it," Brey said.

The Irish had not won in the Carrier Dome in 10 years – and under similar circumstances as they faced on a snowy Saturday in Central New York. That year, Notre Dame was without leading scorer Rob Kurz, who was out with a sprained ankle. On Saturday, the Irish were without their two leading scorers. Colson is out for eight weeks following surgery Thursday for a broken foot suffered in practice on Dec. 29. The Irish also were without Farrell. The second-leading scorer suffered a sprained left ankle late in the first half of Wednesday’s win over North Carolina State.

Freshman D.J. Harvey made his second-straight start in place of Colson. Starting in place of Farrell was graduate student Austin Torres. It was his first start of the season and second of his career. Brey went with Torres over sophomore John Mooney, in part because of age and experience. He likely didn’t want Mooney making his first career start on the road in a place as intimidating as the Carrier Dome.

“We felt that we’d go with our older guys,” Brey said on his pre-game radio show.

Elijah Burns started in place of Torres in the second half.

Harvey opened 0-for-9 from the floor. He did compensate on the backboard with a career-high nine rebounds.

Brey said on his pre-game radio show that Farrell might not be available until the Jan. 20 visit to Clemson. That would mean he’s down for four games. Farrell was on crutches Friday afternoon.

Saturday marked the first time in Brey’s career at Notre Dame that he’s had to have a team go without its top two scorers.

Notre Dame returns to action – again on the road in ACC play – Wednesday against Georgia Tech. It’s the team’s second meeting in 12 days. Notre Dame beat Georgia Tech by nine on Dec. 30 in Purcell Pavilion. It was the league opener for both teams.

NOTRE DAME 51, SYRACUSE 49

At Syracuse, N.Y.

NOTRE DAME (51): Torres 1-1 0-0 2, Geben 2-6 0-0 4, Pflueger 4-9 2-2 12, Gibbs 6-16 4-4 18, Harvey 1-14 1-2 4, Mooney 2-6 0-2 4, Burns 1-4 5-6 7, Djogo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-56 12-16 51.

 SYRACUSE (49): Moyer 0-0 0-0 0, Brissett 3-15 1-2 10, Chukwu 1-1 0-0 2, Battle 8-15 2-2 21, Howard 4-9 0-0 10, Sidibe 2-2 0-0 4, Dolezaj 0-4 2-2 2, Washington 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-46 5-6 49.

Halftime--Syracuse 28-19. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 5-21 (Pflueger 2-4, Gibbs 2-9, Harvey 1-7, Mooney 0-1), Syracuse 8-18 (Battle 3-7, Brissett 3-7, Howard 2-4). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Notre Dame 38 (Geben 14), Syracuse 26 (Brissett 11). Assists--Notre Dame 9 (Gibbs, Geben 4), Syracuse 9 (Howard 4). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 9, Syracuse 15.

Notre Dame celebrates Saturday after beating Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. (Special to NDI/DENNIS NETT, Syracuse Post Standard)