NEW YORK, NY - When Syracuse comes to Madison Square Garden, the squad always brings a following that rivals that of St. John's.
Saturday afternoon at the World's Most Famous Arena was no different, as the overwhelming presence of orange in the crowd matched that of the suffocating presence the No. 2/2 Orange (23-1, 10-1 BIG EAST) brought to the hardwood.
As a result of the depth of the 'Cuse, which used a solid 10-man rotation for much of the contest, the Johnnies' offensive momentum was strangled, causing the Queens, N.Y. squad to drop the contest, 95-70.
"We never played 10 before," said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. "I usually can't keep track of that many."
St. John's struggled to keep the longer and stronger Syracuse off the glass, namely off the offensive glass. At first, it seemed as if the Storm found an effective groove, but that was not sustained as the Orange kept out-jumping the Johnnies for boards, and subsequent second-chance opportunities.
"It's tough, but we adjusted," said St. John's freshman guard D'Angelo Harrison of the length of Syracuse in the frontline and backcourt. "It's just a challenge. We showed them we weren't scared of them. I thought we played hard."
Syracuse's rebounds turned into points, points became a St. John's deficit, and the St. John's deficit rapidly grew into a 28-point hole for the Johnnies. The 'Cuse acquired that 59-31 margin with a 18-4 run in the opening seven minutes of the second half - a run that was capped with a putback by Orange's 7-foot sophomore center Fab Melo (14 points) at the 13:43 mark.
"One - their length gave us fits and, then, two is the experience on the perimeter," said St. John's assistant coach Mike Dunlap of the 'Cuse. "Those guys are very smart, they're well-coached and they know exactly what to do."
Knowing that their squad could not contain the inside power of Syracuse, the Red Storm's freshmen backcourt duo Phil Greene (14 points on 5-of-10 shooting) and Harrison attempted to match their opponents' offensive vigor by combining to knock down five 3's in the second stanza. Harrison, who finished with a game-high 23 points on 5-of-11 shooting, nailed four of his five treys in the final 11:52 of the game.
"I've been impressed with how well St. John's has played with so many young guys," said Boeheim.
"We did a great job on [Harrison]," added Boeheim. "You leave him open, he's going to make it . . . He just needs a little space. In the second half, we left him open, he made them."
Proving why it reigned at the top of national leader boards for so many weeks, Syracuse matched the Johnnies' productivity on the outside with five 3-pointers of their own in the latter half - two from sophomore guard Dion Waiters (14 points) and one a piece from sophomore forward C.J. Fair (14 points), freshman guard Michael Williams-Carter (13 points) and redshirt senior guard Scoop Jardine (seven points).
Because of the soft spot on the inside, the Orange steadily drilled the middle with athletic shot attempts to the rack, owning the paint (52-20) and relentlessly outrebounding St. John's (42-31). Off of those boards, the Storm's upstate rival posted 24 points. And, though the Johnnies and the 'Cuse recorded 11 turnovers a piece, Syracuse was able to convert its opponent's errors into 14 points, whereas St. John's only could get off seven points.
"They looked a little young today in a couple of spots there when we hit a couple and got going" said Boeheim of the Johnnies. "Freshmen aren't used to seeing guys come out and do some of these things."
The Orange's famed zone, which was extended to force ill-advised long jumpers, long rebounds and turnovers, prevented the Johnnies from establishing a momentum. The Storm could only scrape at the surface of the 'Cuse advantage, lowering the Syracuse lead to only as low as 20 points throughout the duration of the second stanza.
St. John's shot a solid 40.4 percent (23-of-57) from the field, including a strong 46.7 percent (7-of-15) from beyond the arc. However, because of the many opportunities garnered from the Orange's effort on both ends of the floor, Syracuse netted 55.7 percent (39-of-70) from the field. A poor first half from 3-point land (2-of-11) resulted in the 'Cuse posting 33.3 percent (7-of-21) from 3 overall.
All players on the Syracuse roster shared offensive and defensive duties, as the team raked up 23 assists and no players on the squad had double figures in rebounding. Five of the 'Cuse players scored in double figures - two were members of the starting five and three off the bench.
"Our ball movement was good the whole game," said Boeheim. "We got it to people. Our bench was very good again. It's a good win."
The Red Storm shot off to a 5-0 start by the 16:49 mark of the first half on a 3-pointer by Harrison. Melo's 2-of-2 from the charity stripe for the Orange and a dunk by St. John's freshman forward Moe Harkless (15 points, eight rebounds) maintained the margin at five points, 7-2, in favor of the Johnnies. Syracuse fought back, soon earning a five-point advantage of its own, 12-7, on a 10-0 run.
St. John's Greene and Harkless helped bring their squad within one point, 12-11, before an 18-6 Syracuse surge gave them a 13-point advantage, 30-17, by the 7:45 mark of the first stanza. Orange's senior forward Kris Joseph (13 points, eight rebounds) led the team with nine points in the first stanza.
The Orange led 41-27 at halftime.
"It's a test and measurement of where we are at this particular time," said Dunlap. "And, as long as we continue in our learning mode, I think that there are two or three things that we can take from this event and go forward. But we'll be spending a fair amount of time on the defensive end of the ball."