With a new starting rotation to compensate for the sizable, strong and stocky opponent it was facing on the road, things appeared as if St. John's was going to be able to, at least, hang with No. 1 Syracuse in the early-goings.
Yet, after the 8:32 mark of the first half, the Johnnies saw its momentum disrupted while the 'Cuse hurt them in a multiplicity of scoring ways.
No one would have expected less from Syracuse, who was ranked the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since 1990. On the 'Cuse's senior night, in front of a crowd of 34,616, the dynamic squad showed just why they hold the spot above all other squads in the nation. Whatever the Orange wanted to do with the ball they did - put it on the floor penetrating to the rack, shoot from the outside and capitalize at the stripe.
Despite a strong effort from D.J. Kennedy and Paris Horne, who recorded 19 and 18 points, respectively, the Red Storm (15-14, 5-12) fell to upstate New York rival 85-66. The loss was its third straight of the BIG EAST schedule homestretch.
The main story for St. John's was the early injury of junior shooting guard Dwight Hardy. At the 9:43 mark, Hardy, on his first field goal of the game, came down hard, sprained his left knee and, consequently, was out for the rest of the game.
Defensively, the Orange (28-2, 15-2) had much length and girth to its 2-3 zone. The pressure from the squad's perimeter defense disrupted St. John's offensive fluidity from the arc, while the frontcourt made it difficult to score on the inside.
Allowing its dire necessity to make buckets dictate defensive basketball IQ, St. John's fouled early and often, especially in transition. As a result, Syracuse made its living at the charity stripe and Justin Burrell (eight points, five rebounds), who made a sizable impact at the start of the first half, fouled out at the 5:25 mark of the second stanza.
Orange 6-foot-9, 261-pound senior big man Arinze Onuaku was unstoppable in the middle throughout the second half. Most notably, Syracuse notched its largest margin of 19 points for the first time on a bucket by Onuaku with 8:48 left when the score was 68-49.
Onuaku, who had only six points at the break, finished with a game-high 21 points and a dominating eight rebounds.
The Johnnies' abundant first-half turnovers hurt the Queens, N.Y. team, as the Orange know how to make opponents pay in transition. The Syracuse squad finished with 22 fast-break points.
Syracuse saw major contributions from Wesley Johnson and reserve Kris Joseph, who each had 13 points a piece.
Orange senior guard Andy Rautins made the largest impact in the first half for his team, as he finished with 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
St. John's trailed Syracuse 42-28 at halftime.