Andrew Renneisen | Staff PhotographerMen's Basketball
HALTED: Syracuse rides stifling defensive effort past No. 25 Notre Dame snapping 2-game losing streak
Jerami Grant wore a wide smile in front of his locker. Grant registered a career-high scoring effort and bested his older brother in Syracuse’s win over Notre Dame on Monday night.
But it was the Orange’s dominant defensive effort fueled by a message from head coach Jim Boeheim that prompted the forward to flash a satisfied grin.
“Coach definitely got on us on the defensive end,” Grant said, smiling. “He made sure that we didn’t let them get a lot of backdoors or easy layups so I felt like we listened to that and that’s why we won.”
Syracuse’s brilliant defensive performance resulted in a decisive 63-47 victory over the Irish on Monday night. The task was twofold – contain arguably the best big man in the Big East in Jack Cooley and stay out on No. 25 Notre Dame’s (18-5, 6-4 Big East) 3-point shooters. Syracuse’s zone took care of both and carried the No. 9 Orange (19-3, 7-2) to a much-needed victory after two straight conference losses.
Cooley finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, but had to earn every point inside. And Notre Dame shot just 6-for-20 beyond the arc, including 2-for-11 in the second half when Syracuse blew the game open.
“I thought we did a pretty good job with Cooley and then we got to their 3-point shooters,” Boeheim said, “so I thought defensively we played just as good a game as we can want to play.”
The challenge started with limiting the 6-foot-9, 246-pound Cooley. The burly forward manhandled the Orange inside in a 17-point, 10-rebound effort to lead Notre Dame to an upset of then-No. 1 SU a season ago.
Boeheim and his players knew the challenge he presented. They couldn’t let him go off again.
They rose to the challenge. Cooley was invisible in the first half offensively. He rarely caught the ball in the paint, and Notre Dame never looked to isolate him on the block. The Syracuse zone – with Rakeem Christmas manning the middle – blanketed the Irish’s leading scorer.
The second half was more of the same. Cooley converted two layups in the first four minutes to cut Syracuse’s lead to six, but another eight minutes passed before he rushed a jumper late in the shot clock and missed.
His next attempt came with 1:55 to play. Syracuse led by 12. The game was over and Cooley’s effect was minimal.
“He still had a good game,” Triche said, “but he didn’t have the monster game that he needed to help them to win the game.”
The Irish’s 3-point shooting – a staple of their offense – also wilted against the active SU zone. Notre Dame shot 50 percent from beyond the arc against the Orange last season, but the team locked the perimeter down Monday night.
Open looks were few and far between for the Irish, whose offense relied heavily on the long-range shots with Cooley taken out of the game down low.
Notre Dame guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant hit back-to-back 3s to get their team on the board six minutes into the game. Atkins added another to give the Irish an 11-10 lead in the first half, and Grant knocked one down late in the half to keep his team within reach.
But Syracuse closed out their opportunities after the break and forced responsibility onto the shoulders of freshman Cameron Biedscheid. He shot 1-for-8 from beyond the arc, missing four out of five times in the second half.
And while SU didn’t score with ease at all times, its lead continued to grow thanks to its stifling defense.
“I think scoring in the 50-60 range is a little bit uncomfortable for us,” Triche said, “but the way our defense is playing, we’re going to be in every game.”
The way Syracuse played defense Monday night won the game.
It frustrated Cooley into a forgettable performance. It frustrated the guards into a 30-percent night from behind the arc. And it left head coach Mike Brey frustrated on the sidelines throughout, animated and subdued as he watched Syracuse score 16 points off turnovers.
On the Syracuse sideline, the emotions registered on the other end of the spectrum by the closing minutes.
Grant’s emphatic rejection of Cooley’s final shot attempt brought his teammates and coaches to their feet, each of them wearing a smile similar to the one Grant did in the locker room after the game. It amazed the home crowd, and it served as a stamp on the blowout victory, sending the Irish home with a loss.
“We played very well on defense,” said forward C.J. Fair. “We didn’t let any easy looks inside to Jack Cooley and we located all their shooters and defended the 3-point line well.
“When you do those two things, plus rebound, it’s hard for a team to score against us.”
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