Little has gone wrong for Syracuse during the best start in school history, and even an injury to the team’s best player doesn’t look like it will provide a major obstacle.
Wes Johnson appears set to suit up for the third-ranked Orange as they travel to Cincinnati on Sunday looking for a 10th straight win and sole possession of first place in the Big East.
Johnson’s status was initially in doubt Tuesday night, when he missed most of the second half of a 85-68 victory over Providence after a hard foul by the Friars’ Brian McKenzie sent him crashing to the ground.
Syracuse’s leader in scoring (16.7 points per game) and rebounding (9.0), Johnson missed practice time this week but said he’s been making progress.
“I feel a lot better than I did after the fall,” Johnson said Friday. “It’s still a little sore, but I’m feeling a lot better.
“I’m back moving around. My legs are coming back,” the junior forward added. “Before, I couldn’t really walk normal, but the pain is really going away. I’ll be back by Sunday.”
Coach Jim Boeheim said he expects his team “will be back to full strength” by Sunday, and Johnson’s teammates didn’t seem especially concerned about the transfer from Iowa State, who is projected among the top picks in this summer’s NBA draft.
“We’re all assuming that Wes is going to play,” senior guard Andy Rautins said. “We’re not really even looking to fill his spot, but we’re capable of doing that.”
The Orange (22-1, 9-1) looked like they barely needed Johnson on Tuesday, outscoring Providence 48-34 after halftime to extend their winning streak to nine.
Reserve Kris Joseph stepped up with a career-high 23 points while center Arinze Onuaku added a season-high 20, with the two combining to shoot 19 of 23 from the field.
“The main thing for me was doing what I do, which is being aggressive off the bench when the team needs a spark,” said Joseph, averaging 16.8 points in the last four games. “That’s what I’ve been doing all year. That’s something I don’t want to stop doing.”
His contributions have helped Syracuse win 22 of its first 23 for the first time in school history and go 8-0 away from home, including five true road games.
The Orange have a chance to become the first Big East team to 10 wins in conference play. Villanova had been undefeated in the league before Saturday’s 103-90 loss at Georgetown, which dropped the Wildcats into a tie with Syracuse.
Cincinnati (14-8, 5-5) has been disappointing after it was ranked as high as 19th during the non-conference season. The Bearcats fell to .500 in Big East play with an ugly 83-65 loss at Notre Dame on Thursday night.
Bearcats freshman Cashmere Wright was held to four points on 1-of-9 shooting, one game after he scored a career-high 24. Cincinnati was held to 38.2 percent from the field and forced fewer than 10 turnovers for the fourth time in five games.
The Bearcats hope a return home will help. They are 11-1 at Fifth Third Arena, where Syracuse lost 74-66 during its most recent visit Jan. 9, 2008.
The Orange cruised to a 87-63 home win over Cincinnati on March 1, improving to 4-2 in the series since the Bearcats joined the Big East.