After Notre Dame’s collective heart dropped when its leading scorer went down, the Fighting Irish now believe they’re prepared to move forward.
Coach Mike Brey has ruled Demetrius Jackson out Thursday night when No. 25 Notre Dame looks to match its longest conference winning streak since joining the ACC and end its recent struggles at Syracuse.
Jackson also could be sidelined for this weekend’s home game against Wake Forest after he suffered a right hamstring injury in the opening minutes of Saturday’s 76-49 victory over visiting Boston College.
Brey said an MRI earlier this week showed no further damage, but it’s a short-term setback for a Notre Dame team seeking its fifth straight ACC victory. That would match the program’s longest run from Jan. 14-28, 2015.
The junior guard had averaged 20.2 points while hitting 15 of 36 (41.7 percent) from 3-point range to go along with 6.2 assists over his previous six games.
”We have to be really, really careful with this,” Brey said.
Steve Vasturia will take over the ball-handling duties after he stepped up with team highs of 16 points and four assists against the Eagles. Rex Pflueger is getting his first career start after contributing 11 points by hitting all three of his field-goal attempts and going 4 for 4 from the free-throw line.
“I think we’ve got some veteran guys and some maturity there,” Brey said. “(Steve’s) so poised that he will handle the ball. We play that way in practice when we settle Demetrius, so it’s not completely foreign.”
Vasturia, who has averaged 17.3 points and 4.3 assists in his last three, figures to be tested as Notre Dame (14-5, 5-2) looks to move within 1 1/2 games of unbeaten ACC leader North Carolina.
The Irish lead the league with a 49.9 field-goal percentage and 9.2 turnovers per game, but they’ve shot 38.1 percent and averaged 13.0 turnovers while losing their last four at the Carrier Dome.
Bonzie Colson had 16 points Feb. 24 when Notre Dame shot 34.7 percent and committed 14 turnovers in a 65-60 home loss in the most recent meeting. The sophomore is playing well heading into this contest, averaging 20.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in his last three.
Syracuse (13-8, 3-5) limited foes to 52.3 points per game and 34.2 percent shooting over three straight wins before taking a step back in Sunday’s 73-65 loss at then-No. 13 Virginia. The Orange allowed a season-high 56.8 field-goal percentage and 8-of-18 shooting from 3-point range.
Michael Gbinije, a fifth-year graduate student, ranks among the national leaders with 53 steals while also averaging a team-high 17.4 points. The point guard scored 24 and hit 5 of 9 from 3-point range Sunday.
”Man, he’s been our guy this year,” said freshman Malachi Richardson, who added season highs of 23 points and six 3-pointers. “He’s like our LeBron (James). He’s making everything happen for us.”
Gbinije is likely to be guarded by Pflueger, who held Boston College leading scorer Eli Carter to 1-of-6 shooting in the second half. That helped the Irish allow a season-low 28.6 field-goal percentage overall.
Syracuse has split six games against ranked foes this season, including an 84-73 loss to the then-No. 6 Tar Heels in the only one at home Jan. 9.