Now that is fast-break basketball.
In a game billed as a battle between two offensively skilled teams, the Syracuse Orange rang up 39 points on the break Saturday to race past the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 93-74.
Syracuse, coming off an 88-74 shellacking at Georgetown on Wednesday, used a harassing man-to-man defense to improve to 17-2 on the season and 5-1 in conference play. The Irish dropped to 12-5 and 3-3.
For fans of high-scoring games, this one didn’t disappoint.
From the opening tip, Syracuse was determined to score the ball inside, as both Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson went to work.
Onuaku was a beast on the interior as he led the Orange with 19 points (on 9-of-12 shooting), hauled down eight rebounds, and swatted away four shots.
Included in his highlight package was a coast-to-coast layup in traffic, probably to the chagrin of Jim Boeheim, but definitely to the delight of the crowd.
Jackson was no slouch either.
The sophomore posted a double-double with 14 points, 10 boards (four offensive), three blocks and a thunderous fast-break dunk off of a feed from Jonny Flynn.
But the most important contribution Onuaku and Jackson made came on the defensive end.
The duo forced Notre Dame center Luke Harangody, the reigning Big East Player of the Year, into a miserable 9-of-28 day shooting.
Harangody still finished the game with 25 points and 16 rebounds, but he worked equally hard on both ends of the court.
Syracuse used balanced scoring in putting up the 93 points with six players in double figures.
Flynn orchestrated much of the fast-break opportunities with 17 points (including three big 3-pointers early on to help set the tone) and nine assists with only three turnovers.
Paul Harris, Flynn’s high school teammate from Niagara, chalked up Syracuse’s second double-double on the day with 15 points and 10 boards. For good measure, the junior imitated his buddy Flynn by dishing out five assists of his own.
Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins chipped in 16 and 10 points respectively, including three 3-pointers and five of the Orange’s nine steals.
Yesterday, I wrote an article on what Syracuse needed to accomplish to beat Notre Dame. Let’s see how the Orange fared.
Make Harangody play defense
Syracuse excelled in this area, using the two-headed monster of Onuaku and Jackson to make life very challenging for the Notre Dame big man on the defensive side of the ball.
Onuaku and Jackson made 15-of-22 shots and gathered four offensive rebounds (all by Jackson) as each player was guarded by Harangody at different junctures of the game.
Harangody, who played 39 minutes, struggled to earn his 25 points. Having to work so hard on the defensive end, in addition to swarming defense by Syracuse, had to have contributed to his poor shooting performance.
Find Notre Dame’s marksmen
After the Irish torched Syracuse for 14 three-pointers in last season’s only meeting, they were up to their usual tricks again on Saturday.
Notre Dame, led by Kyle McAlarney’s 7-of-14 shooting, sank 13-of-33 triples against the Orange.
So while the Irish scored over half of their pints from long-range, their inability to stop the Orange offense negated a strong three-point shooting effort.
Syracuse dominated the fast-break points by outscoring Notre Dame 39-11. Time and time again, the Orange ran the court and finished with a series of lay-ups, ferocious dunks, and jump shots.
Make Irish use their bench
Notre Dame’s thin bench has been an issue all season. Only Luke Zeller (16 minutes before fouling out) and David Peoples (11 minutes) offered any type of relief for the starters.
And the two scored only seven total points.
So while Syracuse didn’t get into Notre Dame’s bench, the opposite effect occurred.
Every Irish starter (except Zach Hillesland) played a minimum of 34 minutes. That forced the starters to exert tremendous energy on both ends of the floor and no doubt affected them, as the Orange mounted a final run over the last six minutes to finish off the win.
Hit free throws
Up until the last four minutes of the game, Syracuse was a ghastly 3-of-10 from the free throw line. That was due in large part to Onuaku’s 1-of-7 performance.
But when it came time to make the free throws that sealed the victory, Devendorf, Flynn, and Harris, who all shoot over 70 percent, nailed nine of 10 attempts.
So Syracuse was good when it needed to be, but giving away points during the course of the game is still a concern.
Defend home court
From the opening jump, the crowd of 30,021 was loud and ready to go. And when the Orange built up leads of 14 and 16 points on different occasions, they showed why the Carrier Dome can be a tremendous home court advantage.
Except for a few defensive lulls that allowed the Irish to climb back into contention, the fans were definitely a sixth man for the Orange.
Overall, this was a critical win for Syracuse as they gear up for a trip to No. 1 Pittsburgh on Monday.
The Orange more than made up for a flat performance their last time out against Georgetown and more importantly, sent a message to the rest of the Big East.
Road victories at the Carrier Dome will not be easily earned.