SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Rick Jackson went into the Syracuse locker room at halftime against Notre Dame shaking his head. He was high-fiving his teammates at the final buzzer.
The Orange’s lone senior entered the game averaging 13.6 points and 12.2 rebounds, tops on the boards in the Big East and fourth nationally, and he turned his game around in the second half on Saturday as the fifth-ranked Orange beat the No. 15 Irish 70-58.
After scoring four points in the first half – all on free throws – and finding little room in the paint, Jackson had four baskets – and four of his career-high six blocks – to spur the Orange (15-0, 2-0 Big East) in the second as freshman centers Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita again watched much of the action from the bench.
“It felt great going out there (to center),” said Jackson, who finished with 12 points and three assists. “Our two young centers were in there and they (the Irish) were able to get some easy shots. I knew coach was going to put me in (at center) and made up my mind that I wasn’t going to let that (easy shots) happen.”
Jackson’s two-handed slam with 15:43 left was his first basket and tied the game at 42-all. After Scoop Jardine’s steal and layup and a jumper from the top of the key by Kris Joseph, Jackson converted a feed from Waiters high off the glass over Scott and the Orange were off and running.
“The key was how Rick controlled the middle,” said Jardine, who finished with 15 points and nine assists. “In the first half, they were getting in the middle. In the second half, we controlled everything.”
Joseph had 18 points and a season-high eight rebounds and James Southerland had 12 points for Syracuse.
Tim Abromaitis led Notre Dame with 15 points, Ben Hansbrough had 12, Scott Martin 10, and Carleton Scott nine.
The decisive Orange spurt started with a jumper from the top of the key by Joseph. That snapped a 44-44 tie with 13:02 left as the Irish (12-2, 1-1) began losing the ball too often.
After committing only four turnovers in the first half, the Irish had nine by the 11-minute mark in the second and the Orange capitalized. Syracuse scored 10 points on the break in the second half.
“I give them credit because I think, overall, we were making some pretty good decisions,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “They cheated into some passing lanes, which they do great with their length. It’s almost anytime you turn it over is a break for them. I don’t think you can physically get back – at least we couldn’t – so any turnover was just so devastating for us in the second half because it was converted.”
The Irish, ranked second nationally in shooting (52.5 percent) entering the week, finished 23 of 54 (42.6 percent) and were 7 of 21 on 3-pointers against the long Syracuse zone. Notre Dame also finished with 15 turnovers, nearly five more than its average.
“I thought we did a really good job defensively,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We only lost their guys a couple of times. I thought the game changed when Ricky went inside. They had scored two easy baskets inside, but then he took over the game defensively in the middle. He just took the game to another level.”
Notre Dame had won two of the last four in the Carrier Dome and, after upsetting No. 9 Georgetown on Wednesday was aiming to keep the mometum going. The Irish hadn’t beaten a top-five team since a 75-70 triumph over No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 5, 2000 at the Hartford Civic Center.
And the Irish had one last rush in them. Martin’s stepback jumper halted the Syracuse run, and a layup on the third try by Abromaitis and a 3-pointer by Eric Atkins had Notre Dame back within 63-54 with 4:52 left. But that was the last Irish basket until Hansbrough’s layup in the final minute.
I love that we fought back, but it was too keep of a hole to get out of,” Brey said. “It’s hard to overcome.”
Notre Dame held the biggest lead of the first half, 10-4 at 14:43 after consecutive 3s by Scott and Hansbrough.
We weren’t ourselves turnover-wise, and it cost us the game,” Hansbrough said. “Syracuse is a great team. There’s a reason they’re undefeated.”
The Orange took the lead for the first time on two free throws by Jackson just over 8 minutes in, and after Southerland slammed home a miss by Jackson at 8:34, neither team led by more than two points the rest of the first half.
Joseph’s driving layup off the glass in the final minute gave Syracuse a 34-33 halftime lead.