- Associated Press - Saturday, January 6, 2018

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Notre Dame coach Mike Brey had a plan for Syracuse and it worked - barely.

T.J. Gibbs scored 18 points and Martinas Geben’s steal set up Rex Pflueger’s decisive layup with 2.6 seconds left as the undermanned Irish rallied to beat the Orange 51-49 on Saturday for their fifth straight victory.

The Irish (13-3, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) played without senior captains Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, and for the second straight game the rest of the team stepped up. Even without Colson, one of the best rebounders in the nation, Notre Dame beat Syracuse on the boards 42-27 and scored 15 points off the Orange’s 14 turnovers, none bigger than the last basket.

“It just speaks to the tenacity as a team,” said Pflueger, whose winning basket came off his offensive rebound of a Gibbs miss. “I think collectively we did a great job and just coming in together and just playing our game. Our shots weren’t falling, but we just played our butts off on the defensive end and just rebounded it.”

Colson had surgery Thursday for a broken left foot and is expected to miss eight weeks and Farrell sprained his left ankle too badly on Wednesday night against North Carolina State to play against the Orange.

“I don’t care who they have,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “They have a good team. I’m just concerned with who’s here. They’ve got players and they play. Our offense is the problem. This was the first game someone got real physical on the boards against us and we could not rebound.”

Syracuse (12-4, 1-2 ACC) led nearly the entire game before falling behind late, and Tyus Battle had just tied the game for the Orange with a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left. A turnover by Geben gave Syracuse a great shot to win it, but Battle, trying to set up a final shot, lost the ball back to Geben to set up the winning basket and Frank Howard’s desperation heave at the buzzer for the Orange was well short.

“We’ve got to make a decision as a team,” Howard said. “We got comfortable and you can just see that in our play. We’re not going after the ball. We don’t have that chip on our shoulder. We’re going to lose if we play like that.”

Syracuse has banked all season on getting to the basket and has thrived at the free-throw line. Not against the Irish, who outscored the Orange 12-5 at the line. Freshman Oshae Brissett, whose game is built around drives into the lane, shot 3 of 15 and all three makes were from beyond the arc. He was 1 of 8 from long range in conference play entering the game and in this game shot only two free throws, matching his season low.

“We kind of learned to play off him and not let him drive and get stuff around the bucket and make him shoot jump shots,” Brey said. “We jammed up his drives and made him more of a jump shooter. He made a couple, but we just felt if he could drive us we’re in trouble.”

Pflueger had 12 points for Notre Dame and Geben finished with 14 rebounds, a career high.

Battle led Syracuse with 21 points, Howard had 10 and Brissett had 10 points and 11 rebounds, only one board after halftime.

Down by nine at halftime, the Irish scored eight straight points in the first 2:41 of the second as they briefly found their range. Pflueger hit a 3 from left wing, Gibbs followed with a jumper in the lane and D.J. Harvey finished the quick spurt with a wide-open 3 from the right corner, his only basket in 14 shots.

A two-handed slam by Geben moved Notre Dame within a point with 4:01 left. Gibbs followed with a pair of free throws to give Notre Dame its first lead since the first minute of play.

Gibbs continued to shine for the Irish in the absence of Farrell and saved this game. He was 5 of 10 from the floor in the first half and the rest of the lineup was 1 for 19.


Notre Dame: Colson was averaging 21.4 points and 10.4 rebounds when he went out and Farrell was second on the team, averaging 15.9 points. Farrell’s return can’t come soon enough, but the hustle of the rest of the team has been impressive.

Syracuse: Offensively, the season has been a struggle for the Orange and figures to continue that way with a short bench and not much rhythm in the attack.

“We’re just having trouble scoring,” Boeheim said. “Our defense has been good all year. I thought Notre Dame just got physical with us. Our inside guys are thin and they just pounded us on the boards. It’s probably going to continue to be a struggle for us to score.”


Notre Dame: Plays at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night.

Syracuse: Visits No. 8 Virginia on Tuesday night.


More AP College Basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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