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  • Game info: 9:00 pm EDT Wed Mar 11, 2009
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Syracuse concluded regular-season play in the Big East the same way it began - winning four straight games and gaining plenty of confidence.

The 18th-ranked Orange hope to carry over that momentum Wednesday night in their Big East tournament opener against No. 11 Seton Hall in the second round at Madison Square Garden.

Under the new format where all 16 teams qualify for the conference tournament, Syracuse (23-8) earned the No. 6 seed and a first-round bye thanks to its late surge.

Coming off a second straight season without an NCAA tournament appearance, the Orange started 16-1 and 4-0 in the Big East - including a 100-76 league-opening win over Seton Hall on Dec. 30.

After beating four of the league’s weaker teams, Syracuse lost seven of its next 10 - going 1-6 versus ranked opponents - to fall to 7-7 in the conference heading into the last four games.

Again aided by games against some of the league’s lower-tier schools, the Orange were perfect down the stretch, highlighted by an 86-79 overtime victory over then-No. 13 Marquette on Saturday.

“We ended out on as good a note as we could,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose team shot 56.5 percent in its last four contests. “We started out with four (wins) in this league, and we ended with four. We’ll forget about the in-between.”

The Orange appear to have forgotten as they try for a third straight victory over Seton Hall (17-14), which beat South Florida 68-54 in Tuesday’s first round.

Syracuse is 1-2 in the conference tournament since winning consecutive titles in 2005 and 2006. The Orange lost 82-63 to Villanova in the first round last season.

Jonny Flynn had 24 points and Andy Rautins added 20 on Saturday for the Orange, who shot 56.3 percent and held a Marquette team without injured guard Dominic James to six points in overtime.

“It felt like a burden came off our back,” said the sophomore Flynn, who is averaging a team-leading 17.3 points. “We were fighting so long.”

Rautins, who averages 10.3 points, had 26 on 8-of-12 shooting - including a 7-for-10 effort from 3-point range - against Seton Hall in December. The Orange led by 19 at halftime and shot 56.5 percent in that contest.

Seton Hall sophomore Jeremy Hazell scored 23 points in the December matchup, and had the same on 9-of-14 shooting Tuesday night to help the Pirates snap a five-game Big East tournament losing streak.

Hazell averaged 22.5 points during the regular season - second in the conference to Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody (23.7 ppg).

Syracuse is 3-2 all-time against Seton Hall in the Big East tournament. The Pirates look to avoid a fifth consecutive loss to a ranked opponent since beating then-No. 12 Georgetown 65-60 on Jan. 25.

“We just got to come out and play them,” said Pirates coach Bobby Gonzalez, who missed the last meeting with Syracuse while he served a one-game suspension for his behavior in the final game of the 2007-08 regular season against Rutgers.

“Anything could happen and you just have to come to play. It’s a 40-minute situation.”

The winner of this contest faces third-ranked and No. 3 seed Connecticut in Thursday night’s quarterfinals.

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Wednesday, Mar 11