On a wild day in the Big East, Syracuse narrowly avoided an upset.
Kris Joseph had 21 points to lead four different Orange in double figures as No. 20 Syracuse held on in overtime to defeat Rutgers 84-80.
Other top teams in the Big East were not as lucky. St. John’s upset No. 4 Pittsburgh 60-59 while West Virginia handed No. 7 Notre Dame a 72-58 loss.
“It’s a tough league, and there is no easy game,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said during his post-game press conference. “It’s very difficult anytime you go out there to play. That’s how it is in college basketball but especially in our league.”
It looked like Syracuse, which had never lost a game to Rutgers at the Carrier Dome, may have been headed that way after SU nearly squandered a 64-56 lead with 6:33 left.
Rick Jackson, who had 18 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks picked up his fourth foul with 7:02 left in the second half. That allowed Rutgers to go on a 10-0 run, capped by a Mike Pool 3-pointer, which gave the Scarlet Knights a 66-64 lead.
Rutgers would hold a two-point lead with less than two minutes to play, and the Orange needed a Rick Jackson free throw with 10 seconds left to force overtime.
“I could hear coach Bernie [Fine] just saying, ‘Bend your knees, bend your knees, follow through,'” Jackson, who went 10-of-17 from the line, told reporters after the game. “I just settled down, took my time and knocked it down.”
In the extra frame, Joseph took command with six points, including a long 3-pointer from the top of the key that put the Orange up 75-71.
Mike Coburn led Rutgers with 18 points and Jonathan Mitchell added 13.
Syracuse, which struggled in recent games defending the 3-point shot, had difficulty again against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights shot 9-for-23 from 3-point land one game after SU had allowed West Virginia to shoot 11-for-22 from distance in a 63-52 win.
“We went back to playing defense like we had been,” Boeheim said. “We let the shooter shoot the ball and let guard penetration into the lane.”
But Syracuse held the edge in several other categories, including fouls. The Orange attempted 47 free throws compared to 14 for Rutgers. Three different players from Rutgers fouled out.
“We wanted to get to the line,” Boeheim said. “We wanted to get to the basket, and I thought we did a good job with that.”
The Orange was also able to control the paint, as SU held an 11-to-1 advantage in blocks.
CJ Fair played 37 minutes off the bench and had 17 points and eight rebounds as only six players for Syracuse played more than 10 minutes. Jackson, Jardine, Joseph and Triche all played more than 40.
“There’s no cakewalk on our schedule,” Fair said to reporters after the game. “Every game you have to come out and play your hardest.”