Jan. 16, 2000
By JOHN KEKIS
AP Sports Writer
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) – Notre Dame found out what Syracuse’s first 13 opponents already knew: Keying on one player is not such a great idea.
Nevertheless, Irish coach Matt Doherty chose Syracuse center Etan Thomas to focus on Sunday, and the strategy worked. Thomas was whistled for his fourth foul early in the second half with the No. 7 Orangemen clinging to a six-point lead, and played only 20 minutes overall.
What Doherty didn’t count on was Preston Shumpert, and he stole the game with his pinpoint accuracy. Shumpert hit four 3-pointers in a span of just over three minutes, leading Syracuse (14-0, 4-0 Big East) to an 80-57 victory.
“I was just in a rhythm,” said Shumpert, who had a career-high 26 points off the bench and hit 7-of-9 3-pointers to tie the school record set in 1992 by Dave Johnson. “Every time I caught it I had my feet ready, squared up, and I shot it every time. It kept feeling good every time I let it go, and it just kept going in.”
Syracuse, the only undefeated team remaining in Division I, hit seven of their first nine 3s in the second half and finished 14-of-27, to the delight of the raucous Carrier Dome crowd.
Afterward, Doherty just shrugged.
“We wanted to get Thomas out of the game and we did,” he said. “But then they have five players on the court that can all pass, handle and shoot. Maybe next time we’ll keep him in the game and foul out Shumpert.”
Notre Dame (11-6, 2-1) had won seven straight games behind the play of Troy Murphy, the second-leading scorer in the nation with a 25-point average.
But Murphy, who was shut down twice last season by the Orangemen, could not rally the Irish after his free throw gave them a 39-38 lead with 15:26 left. He had 22 points and 10 rebounds but was a helpless bystander as Shumpert took control from outside and Syracuse excelled in transition.
“I’ve never seen anyone shoot the ball that well,” said Murphy, who missed all 11 of his shots from the field and scored just five points in a home loss last year to Syracuse. “He was really in a zone. He was really stroking the ball. All their guards were making it tough. They really broke our zone down.”
After Thomas hit two free throws to put the Orangemen back in front, Shumpert and Tony Bland hit 3s, giving Syracuse a 46-39 lead with 14:12 remaining.
When Thomas was called for his fourth foul 29 seconds later, the Orangemen looked to be in trouble.
They weren’t. With Thomas watching from the bench, Shumpert helped complete a 19-1 run, finishing the spree with a layup off a nice feed from Ryan Blackwell that put Syracuse up 57-40 with 11:11 to go.
Damone Brown had 14 points, Bland and Jason Hart each had 12 points and combined for 13 assists, and Blackwell had 10 rebounds and seven assists for Syracuse.
David Graves finished with 16 points and Harold Swanagan 12 for Notre Dame, which shot only 31.8 percent in the second half.
“I thought the real key was our defense,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We made Murphy work for everything he got. This is a good win.”
Syracuse, which shot 52.9 percent for the game, built the biggest lead of the first half only seconds after some tough play under the Notre Dame basket six minutes into the game.
When the officials did not call a foul, Doherty was hit with a technical for protesting too loudly. Shumpert hit both free throws to cap a 10-2 Syracuse run and give the Orangemen a 17-9 lead with 12:31 left.
But the Irish kept pace behind Swanagan, whose strong play underneath quickly got Thomas in foul trouble. Swanagan converted a follow shot and three-point play to stop the Syracuse surge.
“We’ve been in all kinds of situations this year, and we’ve shown that we can win,” said Brown, who had eight rebounds. “I think it shows a lot about our character.”