No. 1 Syracuse can't find rim, loses to Notre Dame
Syracuse was Fab-less rather than fabulous Saturday night, and now the top-ranked Orange are no longer unbeaten.
With center Fab Melo not making the trip, there was a noticeable hole in the middle of the defense against Notre Dame on Saturday night. But the biggest problem for the Orange in their first loss after a school-record 20 straight victories to open the season was making shots.
''Fab is the key to our defense. He's an anchor. It wasn't that, though. Our offense wasn't going today,'' Syracuse's Scoop Jardine said following a 67-58 loss to Notre Dame on its loud and wild home floor.
''Fab only averaged six points for us. That's not too much points,'' Jardine said. ''You know, we missed him truly but we needed to make more shots regardless.''
James Southerland scored 15 points for Syracuse, which shot just 34 percent and was 7-for-23 on 3-pointers.
''That is pretty embarrassing,'' Jardine said of the Orange's accuracy from the arc.
Jack Cooley had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Notre Dame. Without Melo in the middle, Notre Dame's 6-foot-9, 248-pound center was a major force as the Irish won the rebound battle 38-25.
''I can't even describe this right now. They were 20-0. I can't put it to words how amazing this is,'' Cooley said. ''We came out with energy. This was a great opportunity and we didn't want to squander it.''
Melo had started all 20 of the Orange's first games, was their leading rebounder with 5.7 a game, averaged 7.2 points and three blocks. School officials gave no explanation why the talented center did not make the trip. He will also miss Monday's game against Cincinnati.
''We had all week to prepare for Melo (not playing). We didn't know for sure (he would not play), but we were prepared for it,'' Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said, without elaborating on the reasons.
''I don't know how he affected the game because he wasn't here.''
Southerland's 3-pointer with 53.9 seconds left brought the Orange to within 62-56 before the Irish held on as Jerian Grant sank four free throws in the final 32 seconds.
It was the first time the Irish have beaten a top-ranked team since 1987 when they defeated North Carolina, also in South Bend. One of the Irish's most dramatic victories over a No. 1 came in 1974, when they stopped UCLA's 88-game winning streak by 71-70, also on the Irish's homecourt.
Notre Dame has now beaten a No. 1 team eight times.
''The energy in the building is as good as I remember in my 12 years,'' said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who showed his team a video Friday night of past Irish teams that had upset No. 1s. Now he's part of that history and he also has 250 wins at Notre Dame.
Boeheim was denied his 877th career victory, which would have put him in sole possession of fourth place among Division I men's coaches.
Notre Dame led in the first half by as many as 18 and was up 35-23 at the half, shooting 54.4 percent and holding the Orange to 2.6 (8 for 18). Syracuse was only 4 of 13 from the 3-point line and was beaten on the boards 20-13 as Notre Dame seemed to be half-step quicker.
''We knew that. It's been like that all year for us. We're the No. 1 team in the country and we're going to get everybody's best shots,'' Jardine said. ''We knew Notre Dame was going to come out and make some shots. For the most, we didn't bounce back fast enough and that's why we lost.''
Syracuse got off to a better second-half start and whittled the lead to eight less than three minutes in. But Martin hit another 3-pointer for the Irish as the shot clock was winding down and Cooley - benefiting from Melo's absence - bulled his way in for a layup to restore the lead to 12. Cooley then dropped in two free throws and Martin again sank a 3-pointer and the Irish were rolling with a 17-point lead.
The Orange then went on a 9-2 run and Kris Joseph's 3-pointer made it a 10-point game with 7:43 to go. Syracuse again cut it to eight before Cooley roared down the court for a dunk with just over five minutes left.
Pat Connaughton, inserted into the Irish starting lineup, had a pair of 3s in the early going and Notre Dame bolted to an 11-2 lead.
Notre Dame kept up the long-range accuracy, making four of its first six attempts. And when Eric Atkins grabbed a rebound and went the length of the floor for a layup, the Irish were up 21-10 as the fans at Purcell Pavilion went wild.
And without Melo in the middle, the Irish were all over the boards with an early 13-4 advantage.
Now it's on to Cincinnati for a Monday night game against the Bearcats, where the Orange will once again have to go without their Fab.