Rick Jackson scored 17 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, and Scoop Jardine added 19 points as No. 8 Syracuse defeated No. 7 Michigan State, 72-58, on Tuesday night at the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
The win gave Syracuse (9-0) a signature victory in its relatively weak non-conference schedule.
“This is a really good win,” coach Jim Boeheim said. “Michigan State is going to be there in the end, so this is a really good win for us.”
After struggling – though winning – all of its games to open the season, many thought Syracuse was undeserving of its high ranking. The No. 1 critic Boeheim, who earlier in the season called his team the most overrated team in his coaching tenure.
Such was not the case on Tuesday, as Syracuse raced out to a 25-13 lead with 9:20 remaining in the first half. Jackson was the spark to that run, as his layup started a 14-3 scoring run. Jackson and forward C.J. Fair scored 12 of the Orange’s 14 points during that run.
Jackson had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half alone.
“I just want to go there and get all of the rebounds,” Jackson said. “I want to be the leading big guy down there. We have young centers, and you have to lead by example.”
So far, he has.
“He’s been a monster inside defensively, offensively,” Boehiem said of Jackson. “He’s been tremendous. He’s been steady and stable every game for us. He’s been as good as any inside guy.”
The Orange would go into halftime with a 38-29 lead, but Michigan State (6-3) pulled back to within 48-46 with 13:16 remaining after Derrick Nix dropped in a layup and added a free throw after being fouled by Fair.
But Syracuse would pull ahead for good after Dion Waiters drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Jardine followed with a layup plus a foul, temporarily siliencing Syracuse’s critics.
“Every game is a statement game,” Jardine said. “I’m glad today, everyone put it together.”
Durrell Summers led the Spartans with 18 points. Michigan State, which started the season at No. 2, has lost three early season games, including a loss to Connecticut in the Maui Invitational and a loss to No. 1 Duke.
Part of the reason was Michigan State’s trouble handling the vaunted Orange 2-3 zone. Michigan State shot just 38 percent from the field and 29 percent from downtown. The Spartans turned the ball over 18 times, led by Kalin Lucus’ six turnovers.
“The first half, we played as well defensively as we can play,” Boeheim said. “Offensively, we had good movement a couple of times. We struggled a little bit offensively in the second half, but our defense really stayed in there.”
The Spartans also struggled at the free throw line, going 9-for-16.
Though the game will go down as a neutral court victory, much of the sold out crowd of 19,391 were Syracuse fans that saw SU’s best performance of the season.
“I don’t think we’re playing as well as we can play,” Boeheim said. “We’re not there offensively yet. I think we can get there, but it’s early, no one is there yet.”
Wesley Cheng is the Editor in Chief for SuJuiceOnline.com.