Irish Knock Off Syracuse 51-49 Without Colson, Farrell

You were delusional if you thought Notre Dame was going to go to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, where they haven’t won in a decade, without its two best players and come away with a win. And if I told you they’d shoot 30% from the field; well, that’s game over, right?

Somehow, someway, the Irish got it done. Despite a season-low 51-point effort, Notre Dame managed to hold Syracuse to 49 and get the massive road ACC win. It was a bit of deja vu for Irish fans as a Rex Pflueger tip-in in the closing seconds was the difference.

The Irish got the win improbably thanks to a 50% offensive rebounding rate, which allowed them to overcome their shooting woes and “burn” the game a little bit. The refs finally decided to pay attention some time into the second half, rewarding Notre Dame’s work down low and allowing them to do some damage from the FT line late in the game.

Notre Dame was also excellent defensively, which allowed them just to stay in the game after some pathetic offense early in the first half. The Irish kept the Orange (a top-10 offensive rebounding team) off the boards and refused to give them any easy looks from in close. Save for some weak close-outs on Orange shooters (they were 44% from 3), Notre Dame’s defense was on point today.

Also helping the Irish, how about that effort by Syracuse on the game-deciding play (hat tip to Joe Schu for catching this):

Game Ball

I’m giving it to Rex Pflueger, and not just for his dramatic, game-winning put-back. He was tremendous defensively, off-the-ball and on. He committed to the boards and grabbed 7, including 3 on the offensive end. And when the team desperately needed offense in the second half, Pflueger rose to the occasion, scoring 10 of his 12 after the break.

TJ Gibbs also deserves a ton of credit, as he scored 14 of the TEAM’S 19 first-half points. Can you imagine the disaster this game would’ve been without him? Gibbs also added 4 second-half assists, which is a lot in a game in which your team only makes 17 field goals.

You should also know that Pflueger and Gibbs did not sit at all this game. I’m not sure how a human being does that, to be honest. But they left it all out there until the final whistle and delivered a victory.

Let’s also give it up for Martinas Geben, who only scored 4 points but added 14 rebounds and 4 huge assists. Geben in the high post was Mike Brey’s best solution to the Syracuse 2-3 zone, and the team finally saw some success with it in the second half.

Last shout-out goes to Elijah Burns in 21 quality minutes off the bench. Burns added 7 points, including two massive free throws to give the team a three-point lead with about a minute left. Here’s a kid who has barely played any college basketball in his life, and he buries two late free throws on the road like that? Impressive stuff. Burns definitely looks the part and should be a bigger part of the Bonzie-less equation moving forward.

Growing Pains

It was a rough one for DJ Harvey, who made just 1 of his 14 field goal attempts. The Irish needed better from him to have a realistic chance of winning (oh wait they still won how did this happen?!?). But still, I think there are a lot of positives to take away from this one for the freshman. One, he didn’t stop shooting. Stay confident, kid. You’ll have days like this. Two, he committed to the boards as well and snagged 9 rebounds. Three, he never once let up defensively, which is a great sign for a freshman struggling from the floor.

Not the finest work from Nikola Djogo to be sure. I’ll be honest, I thought Brey should’ve started him to help stretch things out (Brey went with Austin Torres instead). But Djogo really looked lost trying to figure out his place in the offense against this zone.

And John Mooney. He made a couple nice plays in the second half but overall just looks terrible. I think the less I say about him, the better. He’s still just a sophomore. But Elijah Burns needs to be given more leash than Mooney for the next few games.

First Place in the ACC

Notre Dame is now 3-0 and stands in first place in the ACC. Clemson and Virginia are the only other undefeateds in the conference. The Irish have benefited from a soft early schedule, but they have also not benefited from having their two best players get injured. So, you know, shut up.

With the team able to compete even without their captains, a NCAA Tournament bid still seems incredibly plausible. You’d have to figure a 9-9 ACC performance gets you there. Can you find 6 more wins during ACC play? I’m feeling good about it right now, but we’ll see. Potentially complicating matters:

The Irish will look to add one to that win total and stay undefeated in ACC play on Wednesday night in Atlanta (7pm ET, ESPNU). The Road Dawgs will hope to find a way against Georgia Tech, who is frankly one of the worst teams in the conference. Can’t afford to drop too many of those and still finish .500.

By |2018-05-09T22:25:37+00:00January 6th, 2018|Basketball|10 Comments

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Gibbs was fouled on the last play. Given how things turned out, I’m ok with the Ref swallowing his whistle.


Rex played all 40 minutes and still out-hustled the entire Syracuse team to that final tip-in. Hell of a win.

Dan Zibton

Gutty as hell. What a win…Weds at GT would be another huge one to steal because it would legitimately let Farrell rest until he’s truly ready because we’d be on house money at least through the home game vs VT, if not the end of Jan.

And Duke lost!


I have to say, I haven’t been as passionate during an ND basketball game in a long time (I think maybe against Duke in ACCT last year or SF Austin in 2016). I just wanted it so bad for these guys, and it seemed they wanted this win much more than Syracuse did. I was so ecstatic to see the hard work pay off in this game. As Mike Brey would say, this team has some “gumption.”

Every win from here on out will be a very difficult one for sure, so I can’t repeat how important this win, on the road, is for this team. I’m guessing maybe Burns will get the start on Wednesday, given he started the second half against Cuse – but, then again, maybe someone has a great practice the next few days. Also, so glad to see the video posted of the team video chatting Bonzie and Farrell – it shows what a great job Brey has done with this ND basketball family. Keep it up boys!

Joe Schueller

Ha… I woke up this morning still watching recaps and press conferences. In particular, I’d encourage you go to enjoy Jimmy B’s whine fest ( He felt we were too physical with them and the game was called in our favor. I wonder if he can still really feel that after watching the tape, but I digress…

You’ll forgive me some hyperbole after a big win, but is it time to start discussing Rex in the vein of a Connaughton level leader within the program? Yes, Pat led a team to the greatest achievement in modern ND basketball, but did it with a cupboard full of talent. Rex is dragging around an inexperienced bunch and doing what it takes to win. If they can get to 9-9, we’ve got to start thinking of Rex on that level.

The other analogy for me is Tory Jackson for TJ. Tory was thrown to the fire ahead of expectations his freshman year when KMac was suspended. He managed to get that team into the dance. While the Winthrop loss sucked, he emerged as a pillar of this program. I know TJ is a sophomore, but right now, he’s a guy playing a much bigger role than the 1st half of the season indicated, and he’s doing it with flare.

Yes, too early to call either of these, but definitely something to watch.

Joe Schueller

I almost hesitated to look at the numbers for this game. However, it is a prefect case of the numbers not lying. It was an ugly game to watch, and the stats reflect it perfectly.

We shot… wait for it… 34.8% eFG. That is 4th worst single game performance in the KenPom data, with only a 2004 loss to UConn, a 2010 win (?!?!) over Cal, and the NCAA disaster vs. Wazzu (27.4%). The Orange heartily outshot us, turning in 47.8% eFG. Thank heavens we had 10 more FG attempts and 10 additional FT attempts.

Turnovers only netted an extra possession, so they weren’t a major factor. Despite the northeastern whining blowing in like lake effect snow, the team that was allegedly “more physical” managed 28.6% FGA/FTA to Syracuse’s 13.0. With a short bench, you have to defend without fouling, and the Irish did.

Of course, the big story was the glass. Syracuse came in with gaudy numbers, and did manage to grab a respectable 28% of their own misses. BUT THEY ALLOWED ND TO GRAB OVER HALF OF THEIR MISSED SHOTS. Yes, there was a metric crap ton of misses, but when you get half of them back, who cares?!?! Brey said in his presser that he only sent the 2 bigs to the glass and rotated all 3 perimeter players back to limit transition opportunities. The quartet of front line guys delivered.

ND doesn’t win many games with 0.923ppp, but they did just that Saturday afternoon. Amazing.

Dan Zibton

The last time we won a game with an offensive efficiency below yesterday’s 93 was 2013 when we beat Pitt with a 92.9 and Evansville with a 89.5. That’s a long time ago…

Also, it makes sense with all the offensive rebounds that were pulled back out for a reset shot clock (as opposed to just a tip in), but 55 possessions in a game is minuscule. That was the most fun ugly game I’ve seen in a while…let’s go do it again Weds!

Also, for what it’s worth, we’ve climbed 14 spots in KP since Farrell and Bonzie went out, mostly on massively improved defensive effiency. This season is weird.


Great write up. I really agree with your assessment of Burns and Mooney. I always thought that Burns provided what we needed out of a big this year more than Mooney did and maybe now we are starting to see it. Mooney is supposedly a better offensive threat but his shot is just broke right now. So, having Burns makes more sense. He rebounds and defends well and has a nice stroke at the foul line.

Hopefully this extended action will allow him to showcase his abilities. His toughness will be needed next year as we lose both Geben and Colson.


“You should also know that Pflueger and Gibbs did not sit at all this game”

That’s incredible. Great effort. Loved that game.