Sunday afternoon marked a pair of returns for the Syracuse basketball team. First was the return of James Southerland to the active lineup and second was the return of the squad to a first-place tie in the conference standings, as the Orange (20-3, 8-2 Big East) knocked off St. John’s at the Carrier Dome, 77-58, and matched Marquette for the conference lead. At the same time, SU posted their 37th consecutive home win and their eighth straight overall win over the Red Storm (15-9, 7-5), as they got four players into double digits in scoring, including Southerland.
Collectively, Syracuse seemed to play as if a burden had been removed, connecting on 53.7 percent of their field goal tries, including 45.5 percent (10-of-22) from three-point range. The Orange also shared the ball, netting 20 assists on their 29 field goals, as well as played active defense, forcing the visitors to match their game average of 11 turnovers in the first half alone en route to 16 in the game. The victory also gave SU head coach Jim Boeheim his 35th season of at least 20 victories, extending his record for Division I.
Syracuse got a pair of threes in the opening minutes to get out to an 8-4 lead, then later scored on three consecutive trips to extend their lead to 16-8 just over six minutes into the action. Both teams’ offenses went into the cooler for the next couple minutes, but the Orange answered a pair of free throws from St. John’s with seven straight points to take a 23-10 lead with just over nine minutes left in the half. After the Red Storm knocked down a three, SU tacked onto their lead by scoring six of the next seven points of the game to go up by a 29-14 mark. The Red Storm got within ten points twice before the break, but a late three-pointer by Brandon Triche gave Syracuse a 37-24 lead at the half.
St. John’s scored the first five points out of the break, forcing Jim Boeheim to call a time out. The pep talk worked and the Orange got a three to go back up by 11 points. The two squads traded scores for the next few minutes until the Red Storm charged the hosts, running off a 7-0 run to clip the SU lead to 48-43 just over eight minutes into the second half. Their lead in jeopardy, Syracuse woke up, scoring seven straight points to trigger a 10-2 run. James Southerland had a no-look assist for a transition dunk, then ended the streak with a pair of threes, the latter pushing the Orange out front, 58-45, with 8:31 to go. In less than 90 seconds the visitors were back within eight points, but SU ran off an 8-2 burst for a 66-52 lead with just over four minutes remaining. St. John’s got within ten points by the three-minute mark, but Syracuse closed strong, finishing the contest on an 11-2 run for the 77-58 win.
C.J. Fair fell just shy of consecutive double-doubles, finishing with 17 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Michael Carter-Williams matched Fair’s team-best 17 points, including hitting three threes, and also added a personal-best six steals while handing out eight assists for the second straight game. Brandon Triche connected for 16 points and James Southerland had 13 in his return to action for the Orange, including 11 after the break. Southerland also provided his usual long-range threat, dropping in a trio of shots from beyond the arc. Baye Moussa Keita chipped in off the bench by making all four of his tries from the field for an efficient eight points.
Syracuse travels to Hartford on Wednesday for their final Big East matchup with Connecticut. The Huskies (16-6, 6-4) have won four of their last five contests, but all of those wins have come against foes in the bottom third of the conference standings. Tip-off is slated for 4:00pm Pacific and ESPN will handle the television duties, including streaming the telecast on ESPN3.com.Jim Stechschulte