(The Rock Report | Notre Dame Basketball) – Notre Dame is always dangerous at the JACC, but when undefeated Syracuse came into South Bend minus Fab Melo, their leading shot-blocker and rebounder, Jack Cooley sensed blood. “I was confused why no one told me, of all people, that Melo wasn’t playing,” Cooley said. “Then, I got a little excited when I looked at the roster and the biggest guy was like 6-8, 213.”
The Irish combined red hot shooting from behind the arc (60%) with tenacious defense and dominance (the Irish won 13 of the first 17 rebounds) in the paint to open up a 18-point advantage at one point, leading by 12 at the half and holding off Syracuse for a 68-59 upset.
“He was just a beast on the front line, which he’s done before,” Brey said of Cooley. “Some of those plays, when he ripped out loose balls and got second shots, made his teammates believe even more. The crowd loves him. It got the crowd juiced.”
Syracuse was never able to close the gap to less than 8 as Notre Dame continued to dominate the defensive boards. Cooley, Atkins, Martin and Connaughton each had at least 6 defensive rebounds as the Irish won the defensive rebounding battle 29-17.
The Irish have a history of taking down #1 one teams. Saturday night’s win was the eighth time the Irish had knocked off #1, something Brey reminded the team about that history by showing them a video of previous Irish upsets.
“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.”
The win puts the Irish at 11-8 and 3-3 in the Big East.