In what could be argued was the most crucial game remaining on Syracuse's schedule, the Orange handed Notre Dame an 81-66 beatdown at the Carrier Dome on Thursday night.
It can't be ignored that Notre Dame was without Demetrius Jackson, its point guard and best player. But SU's near wire-to-wire domination of the country's No. 25 team was nonetheless convincing for a team that — having won four of its last five — looks more and more like one that belongs in the NCAA Tournament with each passing game.
Here's how it went down Thursday:
It took only one minute and 43 seconds for Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim to use his first timeout Thursday. The Orange had just surrendered a wide open 3-pointer to V.J. Beachem — Notre Dame's best shooter — and fallen behind 5-0 because of it.
"(Boeheim) basically told us we couldn't play like that if we expected to win," guard Michael Gbinije said.
Following the timeout, Boeheim opted to substitute Tyler Lydon into the game at center for Dajuan Coleman. That put the lineup of Gbinije, Trevor Cooney, Malachi Richardson, Tyler Roberson and Lydon on the court — the one that's typically been Syracuse's best this season.
And over the next eight minutes and 14 seconds, the Orange went on a 23-1 run, mostly with that lineup on the court. During the run, Syracuse shot 60% from the field, held Notre Dame to 0-of-7 shooting and forced four turnovers.
After that run, the Fighting Irish never got within single digits.
Notre Dame Cooney strikes again
Trevor Cooney scored a team-high 22 points Thursday, making seven of 17 field goal attempts and three of eight 3-pointers.
It marked the third time in three seasons that Cooney has been arguably the biggest reason for a Syracuse win over Notre Dame.
In February 2014, Cooney had maybe the best game of his career against the Irish, scoring 33 points and going 9-of-12 from 3-point range in a 61-55 victory. Then, last season, he scored nine points in the game's final 5:31 in SU's upset of then-No. 9 Notre Dame in South Bend.
After Thursday's game, though, Cooney wouldn't say there was a specific reason he's had such consistent success against Mike Brey's squad. And there might not be one.
Instead, his performance tonight might be better explained by the fact that it's just another strong showing in a season that has been full of them. In ACC play, he's now shooting 38.9% from beyond the arc — far better than he shot in conference play in any other season.
For Notre Dame, unfamiliar territory
After Bonzie Colson pulled down a defensive rebound with 4:36 to play in the first half, he attempted what he likely thought was an easy pass on Notre Dame's end of the court.
But instead of it actually being a simple pass, Cooney was there to intercept it and, in one fluid motion, draw a foul and make a layup. He then made the free throw, expanding SU's lead to 17.
That steal was the ninth and final turnover Syracuse forced in the first half. In that half, the Orange scored 16 points off of turnovers — a big reason they took a 17-point lead into the intermission.
And forcing turnovers wasn't all SU's defense did. On the game, it also held Notre Dame to only 41.8% shooting and to only 24 points in the paint. The Irish's two most well-regarded big men — Colson and Zach Auguste — went a combined 7-of-18 from the floor.
Entering the game, Notre Dame had turned the ball over on just 14% of possessions — the second-best mark in college basketball — and was effectively shooting 56.6% from field — the 10th-best mark in the nation. That made the Fighting Irish the most offensively efficient team in the country, according to kenpom.com.
But none of that was apparent on Thursday.
"That was really the difference tonight," Boeheim said. "Our defense was really good."
A tale of two halves
With just over 16 minutes to play and Notre Dame beginning to threaten a comeback, Gbinije slipped into the lane and drew attention before kicking the ball back out to Richardson on the left wing.
Richardson then drained a 3-pointer from that spot despite being fouled by Beachem in the process. He made the ensuing free throw to complete the 4-point play, essentially throwing Notre Dame's hopes out the window.
"(Notre Dame wasn't) that far away from coming back," Boeheim said. "... That was a great play."