Playing poorly in the early part of Syracuse’s schedule could come back to help the Orange.
No. 4 Syracuse (16-0, 3-0 Big East) will travel to Madison Square Garden to play the resurgent St. John’s (10-4, 3-1) Red Storm on Wednesday. Although St. John’s is coming off a 76-61 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, the Red Storm is off to its best start in 11 years in Big East play.
“They’ve got veteran guys,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “They’ve all gotten better like you expect seniors to do.”
St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin boasts a senior-laden team, with nine players in their finals years of eligibility. Among them is guard Dwight Harden, who leads St. John’s in scoring with more than 16 points a game.
Although the Orange has won nine of the last 10 matchups, including a 85-66 win against the Red Storm on March 2 of last year, the level of St. John’s experience should make this year’s contest a closer game.
“When you come into someone’s house and you’re ranked, they’re going to give you their best shot,” forward Rick Jackson said.
Fortunately for Syracuse, the team has had a lot of experience in close games this season. In its non-conference schedule, SU played in five games decided by 10 points or less, most notably in a 63-60 win over William & Mary on Nov. 21.
“The first couple games, we closed the games out,” guard Brandon Triche said. “That’s what made us really comfortable in situations like this.”
That was evident in Syracuse’s most recent 61-56 escape in its Big East road opener against Seton Hall.
Syracuse played one of its worst offensive games of the season, scoring just 20 points in the first half. The Orange shot just 42 percent for the game, and committed 15 turnovers.
“For whatever reason, we lost our offensive rhythm,” Boeheim said. “Tonight, we were really bad. Our offense was just terrible.”
Some of it was attributed to the week in between games. Before the Seton Hall game, the Orange hadn’t played since Jan. 1 in a 70-58 win over Notre Dame.
“When you have the last couple of days off, you figured you’d come out slow,” Jackson said. “But I didn’t think we’ve come out that slow.”
Regardless, Syracuse made plays and baskets when it needed to. That has allowed the Orange to get off to its best start since the 1999-2000 season, when it won its first 19 games.
“Earlier in the year we had a couple of games like this, and down the stretch we made plays,” Boeheim said. “We have been in those situations. Certainly, we made a couple plays when we had to and that’s going to help us.”
Wesley Cheng is the Editor in Chief for The Juice Online.Wesley Cheng