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SU lets loose to beat Notre Dame

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SYRACUSE — Losing two straight games for the first time in two seasons didn’t sit well with the Syracuse Orange.

And being physically manhandled on the road at Pittsburgh on Saturday made it an angry group heading into a crucial Big Monday game against Notre Dame.

SU responded with one of its finest performances of the season at just the right time. Holding the Irish to just 35 percent shooting and exhibiting unusual patience on offense, the No. 9 Orange posted a 63-47 Big East Conference win to regain first place before 23,982 in the Carrier Dome.

Junior forward C. J. Fair scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for SU (19-3 overall, 7-2 Big East), which has the nation’s longest home winning streak at 36 straight.

Freshman Jerami Grant scored a career-best 14 points and had six rebounds, and sophomore forward Rakeem Christmas contributed 12 big points, five rebounds and four blocks for the Orange, which took a 30-24 halftime lead and gradually broke away in the second half.

SU coach Jim Boeheim called the win “a great bounce-back victory. After you lose two in a row, you’re nervous because you never know if that leads to three or four. The kids really came to play tonight.”

On a night when two of SU’s top scorers, guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams, combined for just 12 points (15 below their average), the Orange found ways to score that it could not against the more physical Panthers.

“We were a lot more patient tonight, and our ball movement was really good,” Boeheim said. “We shot 49 percent and got 14 assists. But the two keys were how Jerami and Rakeem gave us some production.”

Grant scored just five points and Christmas didn’t even take a shot at Pittsburgh. Monday, Grant shot 6-for-8 from the floor, and Christmas got off a season-high nine shots, making six.

“Coach just told me to keep competing, and that the Pittsburgh game was a learning experience,” said Grant, who was outscored by older brother Jerian, a Notre Dame junior, by a single point. “After I made that first shot (a 15-footer in the opening minute), I knew I’d have a better game. I’m getting more comfortable facing the basket and taking that jumper because I make them every day in practice.”

Said Boeheim: “Pittsburgh was a lot more physical, and Jerami is still learning how to handle that. But he was tough tonight, and also did a terrific job in the back of our zone.”

As for Christmas, Boeheim said it was “by far the best I’ve seen him. He was aggressive on both ends, he went to the boards and was really active on defense.”

The soft-spoken Christmas said, “Getting some touches early helped me come out aggressive. Coach really got on me after Pitt to be tougher and not to be afraid to make mistakes if I’m aggressive.”

Triche, who had seven assists despite scoring only seven points, said, “15 and 12 should be a normal game for Rakeem. He’s still getting a feel for the game at this level, but games like this will really boost his confidence.’’

SU, which has now won 29 of its last 32 Big East games, got off to a fast start, scoring the game’s first 10 points, including four by Grant.

But the Irish (18-5, 6-4), which missed its first five shots and didn’t score in the opening six minutes, answered with 11 straight points.

However, that would be the only time Notre Dame led.

SU held a 30-24 halftime advantage, and used a 13-4 run to build the lead to 41-28 at the under 12-minute timeout in the second half on a Trevor Cooney 3-pointer.

After Notre Dame scored seven points in a row, Carter-Williams (5 points, 8 assists) made his only field goal, a 3-pointer, to extend the Orange lead to 48-35 at the six-minute mark. The Irish never got closer than 11.

Notre Dame was just 18-for-52 from the floor, and 2-for-11 on threes in the second half.

“The key is to not let their guards get set,’’ said Boeheim. “And then we battled (Jack) Cooley really hard because he killed us last year.’’

That was when the Irish knocked off then No. 1 SU 68-57 in South Bend, Ind. Cooley. Notre Dame’s 6-10 center, finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, but managed only eight shots.

“Their zone was the best I’ve seen it,’’ said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, whose team was held to a season low in points. “So active and aggressive. They covered so much territory it looked like they were playing with six guys.”

Syracuse next hosts St. John’s at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Dome.

NO. 23 PITTSBURGH 56, SETON HALL 46

Lamar Patterson scored 12 points and Pittsburgh pulled away late for a victory over Seton Hall in Pittsburgh.

Freshman center Steven Adams added eight points, 15 rebounds and two blocks for the Panthers (19-5, 7-4), who won for the sixth time in their last seven games.

Fuquan Edwin led the Pirates (13-10, 2-8) with 23 points.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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