Feb. 3, 2014
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Notre Dame coach Mike Brey figured the best way to beat No. 1 Syracuse was to concentrate on the Orange’s front line. The strategy might have worked if not for Trevor Cooney.
Cooney scored a career-high 33 points, matching a school record with nine 3-pointers, and the Orange beat Notre Dame 61-55 on Monday night in another matchup of former Big East foes.
The Irish, fresh from a 76-73 overtime victory over Boston College on Saturday, stymied Orange star C.J. Fair, didn’t leave point guard Tyler Ennis much room to penetrate, and pulled to within five points in the final three minutes after trailing by 13 at the break to make it interesting.
“You’ve got to pick your poison, and if you’re going to pick something, let’s see if some jump shots go in,” Brey said. “For the most part, it put us in position. It’s kind of hard to absorb nine of them from that guy. We had a couple of breakdowns. But I thought we made some progress defensively guarding a physical team in the second half. We had to kind of grind it out defensively.”
Notre Dame (12-11, 3-7) has lost seven of nine. Since beating Duke 79-77 on Jan. 4, the Irish’s only victories have come against Virginia Tech and BC, the latter on a last-second 3-pointer by Eric Atkins, and four of their losses have been by eight points or fewer.
“That’s who this group is,” Brey said. “We haven’t been able to get over the hump and win enough. We’ve been down on the road just about every time, and we come back and give ourselves a chance. I love that about us. If we keep doing that enough I think we’ll get a couple of them.”
After struggling to a woeful 25.4 percent (14 of 55) from behind the arc in his first seven Atlantic Coast Conference games, Cooney has hit 11 of 13 in the past two games and was the difference against the Irish.
“It feels good,” Cooney said. “I kind of got going and guys just found me in good spots.”
Syracuse (22-0, 9-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), which moved to No. 1 this week after its scintillating 91-89 overtime victory over Duke on Saturday night and Arizona’s loss to California, extended its school record for most consecutive wins to start a season.
Two days after one of the most emotional wins in Jim Boeheim’s 38 years as head coach, Syracuse played its first game as the nation’s top team since the 2011-12 season. Two years ago, the Orange were unbeaten and ranked No. 1 when they went to South Bend, and Notre Dame upset them 67-58.
It was the eighth time Notre Dame had beaten a No. 1 team and turned out to be Syracuse’s lone loss of the regular season.
“That was in the back of my mind,” said C.J. Fair, who had a season-low six points on 2-of-13 shooting after scoring a career-high 28 against Duke. “I didn’t want that to happen again.”
Cooney made sure there was no repeat, hitting five 3-pointers in the first half as the Orange gained a 13-point halftime advantage, then barely held the Irish at bay in the second half.
“We put ourselves in position to make it interesting,” Brey said. “We came into this game, and especially if you watch what they did to Duke, beating them up in the paint. You really try to take stuff away in the paint. I thought overall with the guys that destroy you in the paint we did a good job. But we couldn’t do a good job on Cooney. Seven of the nine I think we challenged. He was just in one of those zones, and you’ve got to take your hat off.”
Cooney, 9 of 12 from long range, matched the record set by Gerry McNamara in the 2004 NCAA tournament and equaled by Andy Rautins in 2008 and James Southerland in 2012.
Grant and Fair, who combined for 54 points against Duke, combined for just 15, while Ennis finished with six points and eight assists.