No. 1 Syracuse, sans Fab Melo, falls to Notre Dame for first loss
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Mike Brey's viewing selection for his players the night before meeting top-ranked Syracuse was an easy choice. The Notre Dame coach showed a video of former Irish teams upsetting No. 1 teams over the years.
Brey and the current group of Irish now have their own spot in that collection.
Jack Cooley had 17 points and 10 rebounds against a Syracuse team missing its shot-blocking, rebounding center Fab Melo and the Irish surprised the top-ranked and previously unbeaten Orange 67-58 on Saturday night.
Fans stormed the court after the Irish's rousing victory, hoisting players on their shoulders in a wild scene at the Purcell Pavilion. It was the eighth time Notre Dame has beaten a No. 1 team -- that ties for fourth-most all-time, with North Carolina having the most with 12.
"Notre Dame has an unbelievable history against No. 1 teams," Irish forward Scott Martin said. "We saw a little video to just kind of pump us up a little bit."
Cooley was certainly inspired.
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, and 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."
Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine said Melo was definitely missed but his absence was no excuse for such a weak offensive performance in their lowest scoring game of the season.
"Fab is the key to our defense. He's an anchor. It wasn't that, though. Our offense wasn't going today," Jardine said. "Fab only averaged six points for us. That's not too much points."
James Southerland scored 15 points for Syracuse, which shot just 34 percent and was 7-for-23 on 3-pointers. Martin added 13 for Notre Dame, which hit 50 percent of its field-goal attempts.
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.
Hence the video selection from Brey.
"I just wanted them to see the history of our place against No. 1s," Brey said. "I mean, we were channeling all week as much as possible. In the midst of the videos, I had our guys doing good things and making big plays. It was only about five minutes, but it was really well done and we watched it last night in the team meeting.
"It is awesome that the players have said that they wanted to see me in some of them. ... This is a great memory for them. This is the kind of thing that will be talked about at the reunions when they come back in 10 years."
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. ... 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.
Triche's three-point play with 2:24 left cut it to seven as the Orange made a final run.
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.
Atkins picked up his third foul with 9:04 left, but Jerian Grant's 3-pointer gave the Irish a two-touchdown lead at 28-14.
The Orange missed 14 of their first 19 field-goal attempts and nothing was falling. Tom Knight's left-handed shot in the lane doubled the score, putting the Irish up 32-16.
Alex Dragicevich's 3-pointer as the shot clock was running down put the Irish up 35-18 with 1:12 left in the half. Dion Waiters then responded with a pair of quick 3-pointers to get the Orange to within 12 at the end of a frustrating first half.
The 23 points represented the Orange's lowest-scoring half of the season.
- Tim Higgins
- Brent Hampton
- Mike Roberts
2022-23 Atlantic Coast Conference Standings