Syracuse center Fab Melo showed no rust after being shelved for three games due to an academic issue.
The center returned to the starting lineup and put up a career high 14 points and added three rebounds and two blocks as the Orange routed St. John’s 95-70 at Madison Square Garden.
“He was good,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “When you miss a few games, it’s always a little tough to come back.”
For Melo, it wasn’t tough at all.
“I felt great,” Melo said. “I practiced last week, so it’s not like I stopped playing basketball. It was great to help my team get a win.”
Though the stat sheet doesn’t show it directly, Melo had a huge hand in altering or changing many of St. John’s drives to the basket. It was part of the reason why the Red Storm shot just 30.8 percent in the first half.
“I know I affected the zone,” Melo said. “I know I intimidate other teams when they try to go inside on layups.”
It also allowed his teammates to become more aggressive on the perimeter. The Red Storm shot 2-for-6 from 3 in the first half.
“It changes the whole defense,” guard Michael Carter-Williams said. “We can cheat on the shooters.”
Of course, while it’s hard to calculate altered shots, it’s easy to tally rebounds. One game after being outrebounded 36-20 by West Virginia, the Orange cleaned the glass against the Red Storm, gaining a 42-31 advantage.
“We did a better job on the boards tonight than we have been,” Boeheim said.
Then again it’s not surprising that Melo shined in the World’s Most Famous Arena.
Last year, Melo had his best game of the season during the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, which happened to be against St. John’s.
Though he struggled for most of his freshman year, Melo’s 12 points and four rebounds helped the Orange to a 79-73 win.
It was more of the same this year.
“I love to play here,” Melo said. “I have good memories. I look forward a lot to this game.”