Coming off a lousy performance that garnered them their first loss of the season on Saturday, Syracuse responded well, outfighting Cincinnati for a 60-53 road win. The Orange (21-1, 8-1 Big East), who dropped to third in the nation on Monday, fell behind early, but righted their ship by clamping down on the Bearcats (15-6, 5-3) to stretch their first-place lead to 1 ½ games. The hosts got off to a sizzling start, but the SU defense closed down, even with center Fab Melo missing his second straight game, allowing only 38 points in the game’s final 35 minutes. Perhaps more importantly, Syracuse bounced back on the offensive end, connecting on 46.4 percent of their shots, including just under 52 percent in the second half.
A feeling of déjà vu descended on the Orange in the game’s opening minutes as Cincinnati buried four three-pointers in the opening minutes to grab a 15-6 lead. This time, SU responded with an offensive attack of their own, scoring the next nine points to make it a 15-15 game with under eight minutes off the clock. The Bearcats scored the next five to regain control, but Syracuse followed that up with four points to stay close, then closed the half with a 9-2 stretch to take a 28-25 lead at intermission.
Cincinnati started the second half on a mission, quickly grabbing the lead, which they pushed out to four points on three separate occasions. The game then took a turn toward the defensive, as baskets were hard to come by for both teams. The Orange were undeterred, though, running off eight consecutive points as part of a stretch where they outscored the Bearcats 14-3 to go up 52-44 with just over six minutes on the clock. The SU defense was almost perfect in that span, forcing eight missed shots in nine attempts and forcing a turnover, as well. The two squads traded a couple scores, but Syracuse got the finishing blow with just under two minutes to play. After Cincinnati could not cash in on three attempts in one possession, Scoop Jardine knocked home a three-pointer for the night’s lone double-digit lead at 59-48 in favor of the Orange. SU remained stout on defense in the waning seconds, which allowed them to withstand shooting 1-for-7 from the stripe in the final minute.
Kris Joseph was the top dog for the Orange in the game, scoring 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field. Scoop Jardine added 13 points and backcourt mate Brandon Triche dropped in 11 points while collecting four steals. The three veterans were all key in the second half, when they combined to score 28 of the team’s 32 points. Freshman Rakeem Christmas provided the backbone for SU, grabbing nine rebounds and blocking three shots to lead the team in both categories.