The last time the Syracuse Orange played at home, against Colgate on Nov. 19, assistant coach Bernie Fine had just been placed on administrative leave in the wake of sexual abuse allegations.
The scandal has moved at dizzying speed in the ten days since. Fine was fired by the university on Sunday after a third accuser stepped forward and ESPN released a taped phone conversation from 2002 in which Fine’s wife Laurie appears to acknowledge to accuser Bobby Davis that she knew her husband had molested him.
Once again the game, an 84-48 shellacking of visiting Eastern Michigan University, was mostly an afterthought.
One question loomed as players spoke to the media after the final buzzer sounded: how is the scandal, and speculation about head coach Jim Boeheim’s future, affecting the Orange?
“Right now it’s out of our hands and our control,” guard Scoop Jardine said. “The most that we can do is just focus on Syracuse basketball. It’s my final season, and I want to make it one to remember.”
Early on, it looked like the Orange might indeed be suffering from some mental fatigue. EMU kept the game close through much of the first half, led by speedy guard Darrell Lampley, who finished the night with 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
On offense, the Orange were passive against EMU’s 2-3 zone, settling for jump shots in the half court. On defense they looked a step slow, allowing the Eagles to shoot 9-of-14 from the field in the early going.
None of the players blamed their slow start on the scandal, however.
“The biggest distraction out there is basically coming from an NIT [Season Tip-Off] championship we’re just more relaxed,” forward James Southerland said. “We’re here to try to win the NCAA championship, and this [stuff] is gonna be adversity [along] the way. We’ve just got to fight through it, do what we need to do. If we do that, there’s no stopping us.”
Southerland, who tied his career high with 19 points off the bench, was instrumental in helping the Orange seize control of the game. He capped a 14-3 run with a rim-rattling fast break dunk, sending Syracuse into halftime with the momentum and a 32-24 lead.
The Orange never looked back. They opened the second half on a 7-0 run, the lead quickly ballooned to 20, and what had been a tight game for the first 20 minutes devolved into a laugher.
“We’re performing pretty well,” guard Brandon Triche said.
Still, he acknowledged the mental toll the scandal is taking. “It’s tough. You wish it wasn’t you,” he said.
One of the most pressing questions in the murky Fine situation has been head coach Jim Boeheim’s role. Since Fine’s firing, speculation has been rampant that Boeheim might be next.
“We believe that [Coach Boeheim] is going to be there for us,” Triche said, “and that’s all we need to know. He’s staying focused and keeping us on track.”
That focus was on display Tuesday, but this was just one game against a clearly overmatched opponent. 10th-ranked Florida visits the Dome on Friday, providing Syracuse with its first real test of the season.
With the Fine scandal not even two weeks old, and new revelations appearing almost too quickly to follow, there is little doubt that the pressure and scrutiny on the 4/3 ranked Orange will only intensify as the season wears on.
“We all know how it goes, know how the media’s going to take things,” Jardine said. “We’ve just got to come together and be together as one.”