SYRACUSE This one had all the makings of a grind-it-out, down-to-the-wire Big East Conference game that has been so typical over the years for Syracuse.
Then the Orange put together one of its patented runs, long scoring spurts that have helped them achieve so much Big East success, sparking a 78-53 win over Rutgers Wednesday night as SU began its 34th and final conference campaign before heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Seventh-ranked SU (13-1 overall, 1-0) scored 21 straight points to end the first half, and 24 in a row overall, to beat the Scarlet Knights for the 13th straight time.
It also gave Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim his 903rd win in his 37th season at the helm, moving him past Bobby Knight and into second place on the all-time mens Division I wins list behind Dukes Mike Krzyzewski before 17,413 delighted fans in the Carrier Dome.
Im just happy to get it over quickly and move on, Boeheim said. But to me, this game is not about numbers. Its about what your team does, the players, coaches, opposing coaches and fans. And the great games weve had over the years, those battles that seem like just yesterday.
Senior Brandon Triche scored a season-high 25 points, making five 3-pointers, to lead the Orange attack. He also contributed six assists and three rebounds as SU posted its nations best 33rd straight home victory.
Junior forward C. J. Fair contributed 15 points, while sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams posted another double-double with 12 points and 10 assists.
Triche was on his game from the start, making his first three 3-pointers and simply taking over the game when it was close. Boeheim said he expects the Jamesville-DeWitt product to play like that every night.
Brandon was the difference because he played at such a higher level than anybody else, Boeheim said. He was in control all the way, making shots and plays and good decisions. I have total confidence in him and hes starting to believe in himself.
Triche said he was feeling it from his first shot, a wing 3-pointer, just 15 seconds into the game. But its not just about scoring points. Its about making plays for my teammates, working hard on defense and doing the little things that help us win.
Carter-Williams, who notched his ninth double-figure assist game, said he could sense Triche was going to have a huge night.
When he makes that first shot or two, you know hes not going to miss many, Carter-Williams said. Its my job to try to get him going and into the flow of the game early.
SU took control over the final eight minutes of the first half, producing one of its longest runs of the year.
After Rutgers seized its first lead at 20-18 on an Eli Carter short jumper, the Orange started to roll. Fair followed his own shot to tie the game, and Carter-Williams fed Southerland for an easy hoop to regain the lead for good.
After 10 more unanswered points in a four-minute span, a deep Southerland 3-pointer increased the lead to 35-20. Fair canned two more free throws and Triche fed Southerland for an alley-oop layup with 1:07 remaining to cap off the 21-0 spurt.
Meanwhile, the SU defense held Rutgers scoreless over the final eight minutes and to just two baskets in the last 9½ minutes of the half.
It all started with defense, Triche said. We got out on their shooters better, got into the passing lanes, and the big guys did a great job of shutting off the inside. That led to a lot of easy baskets.
Boeheim said he was shocked that his club pulled away so easily. At 20-18, you could tell it was going to be a hard-fought, close game. Both teams were playing well, then we started playing better and even better again. We moved the ball and showed patience on offense for one of the few times in the last month. And we actually missed a lot of open looks.
Rutgers coach Mike Rice, returning to the bench after a three-game university suspension, said he expected some kind of Orange run. But not that big, he said. We kind of lost our composure for a few minutes, took some bad shots, and didnt get back well on defense. And Syracuse always makes you pay for that.
Rutgers (9-3), which saw its five-game winning streak snapped, was led by sophomore guard Carter with 19 points.
Boeheim said when he is retired and sitting on his couch at home, he might think about what all of the victories mean.
But when I get notes like I did after 900 from (former St. Johns star) Chris Mullin, whom I consider the best weve ever faced, and from (Butler coach) Brad Stevens, one of the great young coaches, thanking me for my contributions to the game, that makes me smile, he said.
SU hits the road for its next two Big East games, Sunday at South Florida and next Wednesday at Providence, before returning home to host Villanova on Jan. 12.