As one of the top offenses in the nation, scoring is rarely a problem for Syracuse. Slowing down opponents is where the Orange have run into trouble, but they’ve suddenly stepped up their defense.
The 25th-ranked Orange look for another strong defensive effort Tuesday night as they go for their 13th straight home victory over Rutgers, which is trying to avoid its eighth consecutive loss.
After being left out of the Feb. 23 poll - the first time since Nov. 24 it was not in the Top 25 - Syracuse (21-8, 9-7 Big East) returned to the rankings Monday on the heels of two lopsided wins. The Orange, the top-scoring team in the Big East (80.2), beat Cincinnati 87-63 on Sunday after an 87-58 win over St. John’s last Tuesday.
While Syracuse’s offense continued to roll in those two victories, its defense surprisingly led the way.
The Orange’s 2-3 zone baffled the Bearcats, who scored 17 points in the first half while making just 6 of 30 shots - including 1 of 15 from 3-point range.
“Not only can we score on any team in the country, when our defense is active like it was today, we can frustrate teams,” said sophomore guard Jonny Flynn, who led Syracuse with 17 points Sunday.
“If you look at any good defensive team around the country, they are active. Look at Duke. Look at Pittsburgh. We are finally seeing that we have to be active to be a good defensive team.”
Syracuse, which held Cincinnati to 37.3 percent shooting for the game after limiting the Red Storm to 39.6 percent, has won three of four after losing five of its previous six contests.
“The last two games, we’ve played tremendous defense,” coach Jim Boeheim said. “I think we’ve given a little better effort, but I also think we’re moving much better.”
The Orange are tied with West Virginia for seventh in the Big East, where the top eight teams receive a first-round bye in the conference tournament. Syracuse wraps up the regular season at No. 13 Marquette on Saturday.
The Orange had little trouble shutting down Rutgers (10-19, 1-15) in their first meeting of the season.
On Jan. 10 in New Jersey, Syracuse held the Scarlet Knights to 39.7 percent shooting in an 82-66 victory - their eighth straight in the series. The Orange have also won 12 straight home games over Rutgers since a 76-75 loss on Feb. 6, 1975 - their only defeat to the Scarlet Knights in 21 meetings in Syracuse.
The Orange shot 61.1 percent from the floor in the January matchup. Paul Harris shot 11-for-13 and led Syracuse with a season-high 26 points, while Arinze Onuaku added a season-high 19 and made 8 of 9 shots.
Rutgers, 15th in the 16-team Big East, suffered its seventh straight defeat Sunday, falling 73-66 at home to Providence.
“We know how to compete,” Scarlet Knights coach Fred Hill said. “We have to learn how to win.”
Freshman Gregory Echenique led Rutgers with 14 points, 16 rebounds, seven blocks and five steals. The 6-foot-9 forward had 10 points and eight boards against the Orange earlier this season.
The Scarlet Knights have lost 10 straight games against ranked opponents since a 77-64 win at then-No. 13 Pittsburgh on Jan. 26, 2008.