GAME NOTES: After prevailing in arguably the season's most thrilling game over the weekend, the undefeated Syracuse Orange will get back to work on Monday night when they play host to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Atlantic Coast Conference action at the Carrier Dome.
Notre Dame has endured a disappointing season, especially since it entered the campaign among the likes of the nationally ranked, as it has gone just 12-10 overall and 3-6 in the ACC. The Irish most recently edged Boston College in overtime on Saturday, 76-73, but their record on the road has been dreadful (0-5).
In a game for the ages on Saturday night versus nationally-ranked Duke, Syracuse outlasted the Blue Devils in overtime, 91-89, to improve to 21-0, a school record for the longest winning streak to start a season. After top- ranked Arizona fell over the weekend, the Orange are one of only two remaining unbeaten teams in the nation, joining Wichita State. The squad has been nearly flawless at home in recent years, going 49-2 at the Carrier Dome since the start of the 2011-12 campaign.
Syracuse leads the all-time series with its former Big East rival, 25-19. The Orange have beaten the Irish in four of the last five meetings dating back to 2009.
The Irish had an opportunity to win their latest game in regulation when Eric Atkins stepped to the foul line down by one with one second left, but after a 1-of-2 trip forced overtime, Atkins made up for it with the game-winning 3- pointer in the waning seconds of the extra session. The squad shot 46 percent from the field and won the rebounding battle, 36-27. Atkins poured in a game- high 24 points, Pat Connaughton tallied 17 points and nine rebounds, while Zach Auguste and V.J. Beachem netted 10 points apiece.
Notre Dame hasn't had much of a problem scoring points this season, shooting 46.1 percent from the field for 75.3 ppg, but it has been held back by a less- than-stellar scoring defense (70.9 ppg). The suspension of Jerian Grant (19.0 ppg, 6.2 apg) back in December has certainly limited the squad's potential. Garrick Sherman (14.5 ppg) and Atkins (14.3 ppg) are neck-and-neck for the scoring lead, with Atkins dishing out 4.8 apg as well. Connaughton (13.5 ppg) does a large majority of his damage from 3-point distance (54-of-140).
The Orange held a single-digit lead for most of the second half against Duke on Saturday, but after Tyler Ennis made it a three-point game with five seconds left following a pair of free throws, Duke charged down the floor and Rasheed Sulaimon drilled the tying 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime. Syracuse shot 3-of-4 from the field in the extra session and 7-of-8 at the free-throw line and dodge another game-tying attempt at the buzzer by the Blue Devils as it held on. C.J. Fair (28 points) and Jerami Grant (24 points, 12 rebounds) were both outstanding, while Trevor Cooney scored 14 points, Ennis had 14 points and nine assists and Rakeem Christmas hauled in 10 rebounds.
Syracuse has been strong on the offensive end of the floor this season, shooting greater than 46 percent from the field for 72.3 ppg. Its most telling attribute during its undefeated season however, has been its elite scoring defense, which ranks eighth-best in the country in allowing just 59.3 ppg. Unsurprisingly, it also has outstanding margins in the rebounding (+5.9) and turnover (+4.9) battles. Fair brings 17.2 ppg and 5.9 rpg to the table, while Cooney (13.2 ppg) has made 59 3-pointers at a 41-percent clip. Grant (13.0, 7.1 rpg) and Ennis (12.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.4 spg) round out an excellent group.
After such an emotional win for Syracuse, there's always the possibility of a let down against a capable Irish squad, but considering Notre Dame's road woes and the Orange's continued quest for perfection, don't expect that to happen.
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