The Irish had all the advantages coming into today’s match up with the Syracuse Orange. After all, the Irish had the #16 ranking, the 2007 Big East coach of the year in Mike Brey, a bye yesterday, and the confidence that comes from already having beaten the Orange earlier this season with a Carrier Dome opponent record 103-91 score.
Some pundits were also suggesting that the Irish had an advantage schematically with an offense that now utilizes a solid, multi-player, deep three threat, combined with the inside board domination of a Luke Harangody to stretch the more traditional 2-3 zone defenses of a team like Syracuse.
And yet, just prior to tip off this afternoon at Madison Square Gardens, the general feeling of worry was palpable among Irish faithful.
The Syracuse Orange have been streaking of late going 7-2 since losing to the Irish, a streak which included a very impressive 72-58 drubbing of the Big East regular season champion Georgetown Hoyas.
The Orange also had a very impressive eight game Big East Tournament winning streak coming into today’s game and were Tournament champions the last two seasons.
The Irish were able to silence these fears starting in the second half, before going on to win the game 89-83, launching them into a semifinal game with the Hoyas tomorrow evening.
The Orange were off to a quick start, opening a very impressive 26-16 lead by the seventh minute behind the solid play of senior forward Terrence Roberts and a very effective high tempo style of play. Roberts would finish the day with 10 points and an incredible 20 rebounds—battling as he did, Irish freshman Luke Harangody under the boards.
Harangody finished the game with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Syracuse leading scorer, senior forward Demetris Nichols, was essentially a non-factor scoring only once in the first.
The Irish came on late going on a 13-2 run in the fifth minute and capitalizing on ten Orange turnovers, closing the score at the half to 34-32.
The second half was all Notre Dame, a development that bodes well for play in NCAA championships, a tournament that rewards teams that come on late and can close out.
The Irish opened with seven straight points and a momentum swinging and disproportionately authoritative Rob Kurz rejection of Syracuse’s Darryl Watkins.
The teams traded a series of threes, a tactic that is decidedly not recommended against a team that features Colin Falls and Russell Carter, who finished with 23 and 24 points respectively.
By the ninth minute Notre Dame managed to open up a number of ten point leads that Syracuse just could not close, despite the impressive emergence of freshman forward Paul Harris who finished with a team high 24 points of his own.
Syracuse made the game interesting late, drawing to within four three times, but would come no closer as the Irish managed to close out near perfect from the free throw line.
The Irish will now face Georgetown who edged Villanova today 62-57 despite opening up a 20+ point lead early in the first half over the Wildcats.