Syracuse came away with their third straight road win in the Big East last night, beating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 84-71.
Notre Dame is a team that would figure to cause problems for Syracuse. They have a couple great three-point shooters in Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough, a veteran point guard who can break down the zone in Tory Jackson, and the best post man in the Big East in Luke Harangody. Notre Dame did a better job breaking down the zone than anyone the entire year. Jackson was able to penetrate and find Harangody who was effective (a bit of an understatement seeing as he had a game-high 31 points) playing behind the back line of the 2-3 zone and they were able to work the inside-outside game to get some open three-point shots.
But despite Notre Dame's effective offense, they trailed 39-32 at the break. The reason? Andy Rautins. He hit five of six three-pointers to account for all 15 of his points in the first half. And these weren't just open three-pointers. He was taking men off the dribble, hitting them in transition - the man was on fire. He cooled a bit in the second half but still finished with 21 points.
Syracuse never trailed in the second half but Notre Dame did cut into the lead several times. The turning point that really put the game away came around the three-minute mark. Abromaitis just hit a three to cut the lead to 67-62. It was one of five three-pointers from Abromaitis who finished with 26 points. On the following possession Syracuse went to Wesley Johnson who was one-on-one with Abromaitis. Can you say mismatch? Abromaitis was forced to commit his fourth foul on a drive by Johnson. Johnson hit the first free throw, missed the second but Kris Joseph grabbed the offensive rebound. Rautins penetrated and dished to Arinze Onuaku for the dunk and the foul. Onuaku went to the line, missed the free throw and again Kris Joseph got the offensive board. And again Syracuse converted. This time it was Wesley Johnson who hit a jumper. So, they scored five points on one possession and took a minute and a half off the clock.
That gave them a 10-point lead with 1:31 remaining. Sound familiar? That was the exact same position they were in against West Virginia on Saturday and they almost blew that game. But this would be different as the Orange's biggest weakness became a strength. Syracuse hit 24 of 31 free throws and 20 of their last 25. Onuaku even hit five of nine. Good free-throw shooting means the difference between surviving for a one-point win against West Virginia and beating Notre Dame by 13.
Game Notes: Wesley Johnson went silent for almost the first 14 minutes in the second half. He had just one point until that point but score nine in the final 6:11.
-Mookie Jones didn't play at all. He had been playing well and it seems like he deserved to get in the game.
-Have to give the Notre Dame fans some props for their chant of U-S-A when the Canadian-born Rautins stepped to the line.