The Irish fell behind by eight late in the second half and the deficit remained pretty much the same the rest of the way. Though ND closed the game to two with about ten minutes left, six straight Orange points kept it at arms length for good.
On offense, we saw mixed results against the 2-3 zone. Syracuse is so effective with that defense, holding the potent Notre Dame attack below 40% shooting for the game. Like against Northwestern, the Irish took awhile to get comfortable against a mostly zone team. Much of our success came on secondary breaks with the Orange unable to get settled. In the half-court, ball movement suffered a bit with the Irish finding a few opportunities in the low post with Tim Abromaitis or Luke Harangody running the baseline. Harangody is much more suited to this task as a true post player, while Abro seems better on the wing especially since it keeps Gody from getting touches near the top of the key which limit his effectiveness.
Defensively, Syracuse had their normal success in the paint. 261 pound Arinze Onuaku and 240 pound Rick Jackson took turns battering around our weak power forward combination (Ty Nash, Carleton Scott, and Abromaitis) and combined for 19 points and 11 boards. Onuaku has really taken a backseat this year with the arrival of Wesley Johnson, but he simply dominated Nash all night. Johnson is the real deal, the kind of player everyone hoped Scott would grow into. His 22 points and 8 boards looked so fluid and effortless. Andy Rautins is a true punk in the vein of Eric Devendorf, but was hot from the start. Ben Hansbrough could not defend him off the ball.
Tory Jackson struggled mightily shooting the ball and driving amongst the trees of the Orange, but made up for it a bit by finding open teammates in the holes of the zone. A career-high 15 assists on an otherwise forgettable night.
Hansbrough could not stick with Rautins off of screens enough to hold the fifth-year senior down. Though he is a much better on-ball defender than was Kyle McAlarney, he sometimes gets lost in man-to-man defense and makes poor decisions leaving his man to help out his teammates. Also struggled shooting the ball, 2-7 with all of his attempts from three-point land.
Abro was impressive, however. Though he certainly was nothing special on defense, it is certainly impressive that he was able to outscore one of the best players in the conference and be one of only two Irish players in double figures. He knocked down most open looks afforded to him against the zone and also had a bit of success finding open spaces in the low post.
Ty Nash had another awful performance. His last 32 minutes: 9 fouls, 2 rebounds, 1 point.
Harangody was very good, demonstrating a reborn effort on the glass with 14 rebounds and scoring all over the floor. He was most effective in the low post, like Abro, and is much more suited to it. Every possession in which he decides to catch the ball beyond the arc is a wasted opportunity. He turned the ball over just twice, but one was real backbreaker. With four minutes remaining and the Irish only down six, he went back into point guard mode and abruptly turned it over in transition. Though he certainly did more good than harm tonight, decisions like that are inexcusable for a senior All-American.
Off the bench, Carleton Scott really hit the glass well. 9 boards, 6 on offense, which repeatedly gave Notre Dame chances and kept this one competitive for as long as possible. On offense, however, the differences between Scott and Wesley Johnson are enormous. Johnson's quick first step and viable outside shot make him a scoring machine. Scott's jumper is unreliable at best and he lacks the mechanics and confidence to beat people to the rim. While there is still time for him to gain a bit of polish, I would hope we would see more flashes of scoring ability from him by now. Peoples had 13 forgettable minutes with 2 rebounds and 3 fouls. This was an interesting night, because our seven man rotation was equaled by Syracuse. The Orange clearly have more ability from top to bottom even with such a short bench.
Not a whole lot of people would have predicted a win tonight, but this makes the DePaul matchup critical. If the Irish can get an easy home win Saturday, they will face a tough Villanova team before hitting the easiest five-game stretch of the conference slate.