A potential showdown for the Big East regular-season title awaits Syracuse at the Carrier Dome later this week, but first it’ll have to concentrate on another road opponent.
That hasn’t been a problem for Jim Boeheim’s club.
Two wins away from the program’s first perfect road record in 92 years, the fourth-ranked Orange visit Providence on Tuesday night with plenty of confidence after blowing out the Friars earlier this month.
Syracuse (25-2, 12-2) began the season unranked but quickly caught the attention of voters by beating two top-15 opponents at Madison Square Garden to claim the 2K Sports Classic title in mid-November. The Orange added another neutral site win over then-No. 10 Florida on Dec. 10.
They’ve been just as effective in true road environments. Syracuse’s 7-0 record in Big East play away from the Carrier Dome has lifted it atop the conference, with a showdown against No. 7 Villanova - currently in second place - looming Saturday night in upstate New York.
The Orange lost at home to Louisville on Feb. 14, but bounced back Thursday at 10th-ranked Georgetown thanks to senior guard Andy Rautins. The Hoyas shaved all but one point off a 23-point second-half deficit, but Rautins scored eight of his game-high 26 points in the final 8:33 to help Syracuse secure a 75-71 win.
“You knew they were going to come back, and I think the reason they did is we just stopped scoring,” Boeheim said. “You can never stop scoring, especially on the road. I thought that was the difference.”
Rautins is perhaps the biggest reason the Orange are two victories away from completing a season unbeaten on the road for the first time since 1917-18. He’s averaged 16.9 points in Big East play away from the Carrier Dome, nearly twice his average (8.8) at home.
“He’s the key to the whole team, defensively, offensively,” Boeheim said. “Obviously he’s a tremendous shooter, but he makes plays, he gets other people the ball and is really key on our defensive end.”
Rautins wasn’t at his best when Providence (12-14, 4-10) visited Feb. 2, finishing with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting, but Syracuse’s frontcourt picked him up. Kris Joseph had 23 points and Arinze Onuaku added 20 - both season highs - as the Orange shot 57.6 percent in an 85-68 victory over the smaller Friars.
Syracuse is 9-0 in conference play when Joseph, who had the decisive basket Thursday with 8.4 seconds left, scores at least 11 points.
Syracuse’s most talented player won’t have pleasant memories from his first game against the Friars. Wesley Johnson flipped and crashed hard to the floor when fouled by Brian McKenzie in the first meeting. The junior forward’s scoring average was 17.1 entering that content, but has been 11.2 - on 31.4-percent shooting - since.
Providence has lost six straight, and Tuesday will end a grueling stretch of five games in six against top-eight opponents. The Friars, who have shot 36.9 percent in their last three contests, fell behind by 18 points at halftime Thursday at home en route to an 88-74 loss to No. 8 West Virginia.
“They just outphysicaled us, outsized us and definitely outrebounded us,” coach Keno Davis said.
Forward Jamine Peterson, who’s averaged 22.9 points since Jan. 23, had 20 points and 15 rebounds, but second-leading scorer Sharaud Curry was 0 for 10 from the field and finished with eight points.
Curry was held to eight points earlier against Syracuse, though he scored 22 in a 100-94 win over the Orange on Jan. 28, 2009, at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
Providence freshman Vincent Council, who had 16 in the first meeting, is questionable with a sore right hand.