Kyle McAlarney and his Notre Dame teammates might just be salivating at the thought of seeing Orange.
After losing just once in its first 17 games - to Cleveland State on a desperation 60-foot shot at the final buzzer - No. 8 Syracuse crashed hard on Wednesday night at No. 13 Georgetown. The Hoyas, 35 percent shooters from 3-point range, throttled what had been one of the top long-range defenses in the country by hitting 12 of 21 from beyond the arc in an 88-74 victory.
Man-to-man defense or zone, it didn’t matter.
“We gave them open looks, and they knocked them down,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We just didn’t defend well. We played equally bad in both defenses. Our defense has been good. We had a really bad first half.”
And now come McAlarney, Big East scoring leader Luke Harangody and the 12th-ranked Irish (12-4, 3-2 Big East) on Saturday. Notre Dame beat Georgetown 73-67 nearly two weeks ago, McAlarney is shooting 47.9 percent on 3-pointers, and the 67 he’s made leads the Big East by a wide margin.
A year ago, McAlarney was the main factor in a 94-87 victory over Syracuse (16-2, 4-1) at the Joyce Center, hitting a 9 of 11 shots from beyond the arc, a career high. And head coach Mike Brey thinks his star senior guard might be even better this year, though he’s struggled at times since early December.
“One of the biggest improvements he’s made is when they (opponents) take something away, he doesn’t press,” Brey said. “We’re always mindful of trying to get him a look, to be our initial handler. I like how he’s been patient for the most part, kind of waited for those spurts to come, but we can’t have him hiding on us.”
McAlarney, recovering from a kick in a calf by a teammate, will be making his Carrier Dome debut. And despite the dismal performance against the Hoyas, the Syracuse defense still has limited opponents to 27.9 percent shooting on 3s.
“We’ve rebounded all year, not just after the Cleveland State loss,” Boeheim said. “When we’ve been in trouble in games, we’ve made great comebacks. This team has been coming back all year. We’ve been down more than we’ve been up.
“I don’t anticipate any problem,” Boeheim said. “But the difference is you’re playing a tremendous offensive team that’s beat us three times in a row. We have to improve what we’re doing and we have to play better. The players know that.”
This will be Syracuse’s second straight game against a ranked opponent, and six more teams in the Top 25 right now await in the ensuing eight games.
“It’s going to be a battle every game,” Boeheim said. “There’s nothing that’s going to be easy. You just have to play your way through and realize there’s going to be a lot of adversity in this portion of the Big East season.”
Brey said he was hoping for a repeat of Notre Dame’s last trip here. Two years ago, the Irish missed their first three 3-pointers, then went 10-for-14 from behind the arc to close the opening half and won 103-91 - the first team to crack the century mark in the Carrier Dome in 10 years. Harangody contributed 21 points and 13 rebounds to help key the win.
“We may watch a little film of that,” Brey said. “Kyle’s never played in the building. I hope we can get into one of those rhythms again. We’re going to need a performance similar to that to beat them in there. They are so talented offensively. They can score from a number of different spots and they know who they are, they know their roles. They can really get in a rhythm and get to 85 or 90 pretty quick.”