Wednesday evening, #2 Syracuse needed a 26-0 run to extend their record streak to 21 straight wins at the Carrier Dome by knocking off South Florida, 56-48. That dominant stretch lasted over 11 minutes bridging the two halves and erased an otherwise lethargic performance by the Orange (28-1, 15-1 Big East), who trailed the Bulls (17-11, 10-5) by as many as 13 points in the opening half. SU was outplayed for most of the game, as USF both outshot and outrebounded them.
The Orange were helped in a major way by forcing 18 turnovers, including snaring 11 steals, and blocking nine shots. The victory clinched both a share of the regular season Big East title and a double-bye in the conference tournament for SU.
South Florida took the lead early, using their slowdown pace to frustrate Syracuse. The Orange drew within two points at 7-5, but the Bulls gradually pulled away, scoring the game’s next 11 points over a span of nearly five minutes to go up 18-5 just past the midpoint of the opening half. SU got a bucket to stop the run, but USF matched serve with a basket with 8:52 left in the half. That was the last score the Bulls posted in the first half, as SU exploded for the final 17 points before the break. The Syracuse defense tightened the screws, forcing the visitors to miss their final nine shots of the half and turn the ball over on seven other occasions. Scoop Jardine was the triggerman for SU on offense, hitting three jump shots, including a pair of triples, one of which gave the Orange their first lead, and connecting with Kris Joseph on an alley-oop dunk that brought the Carrier Dome crowd to life.
Syracuse built on their 24-20 halftime lead by keeping the offense rolling, scoring the first nine points after the break to make their run 26-0. Jardine kept adding his fingerprints to the outburst, throwing an alley-oop to Fab Melo for the opening points of the half and dropping in a pair of fast break lay-ups to close the run. Down 33-20 just over two minutes into the half, South Florida got off the mat with an 11-3 run to get within five points with just over six minutes elapsed. The two squads traded scores until SU put together a streak of seven straight points to extend their lead to 47-35. Undeterred, the Bulls ripped off an 11-0 run to trim the margin to 47-46 with 6:29 remaining. Syracuse responded with the next five points to start a 9-2 burst to close out the game. The Orange defense again slammed the door, holding the guests to 1-of-7 shooting down the stretch, as well as forcing another three turnovers.
Three Syracuse players cracked double figures in scoring, led by Scoop Jardine, who had 15 points. C.J. Fair continued his strong play with his fourth straight double-figure scoring output, this time posting 13 points, as well as coming up with five steals. Kris Joseph added a dozen points, including nine in the second half, and pulled down a game-high nine rebounds. Once again, Fab Melo was a defensive force, this time blocking six USF shots, all of them coming after the break.
Saturday night, the Orange travel to Storrs to wrap their season series with Connecticut. The Huskies (17-10, 7-8) have won two of three games since SU defeated them on Saturday, February 11, 85-67.
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