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.