Syracuse appeared strong and focused in its first game without embattled assistant coach Bernie Fine. They’ll likely need to be both of those things again in order to beat their next opponent.
The fifth-ranked Orange figure to face their first significant challenge of the young season Wednesday when they take on Virginia Tech at Madison Square Garden in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Syracuse has rolled to victory in its first four games, blowing out a series of overmatched opponents at the Carrier Dome by an average of 32.5 points. Those results were overshadowed by the controversy involving Fine, who was placed on administrative leave by the university last week in the wake of child molestation allegations.
Fine’s usual seat next to coach Jim Boeheim was left vacant for Saturday’s game against Colgate but the Orange didn’t appear to miss a beat, cruising to a 92-47 win as none of their starters played more than 20 minutes.
Syracuse’s top three scorers in the rout were all reserves, as sophomore guard Dion Waiters had 16 points, junior forward James Southerland added 14 and sophomore forward C.J. Fair finished with 13. Point guard Scoop Jardine was the only starter to reach double figures, scoring a season-high 11 points and adding 11 assists.
“These guys are good,” Boeheim said. “They work hard. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re far from where we need to be, but I think this team will get better.”
The Orange won’t be playing at home Wednesday, but they’re plenty familiar with MSG, the home of the Big East tournament.
“I’m excited to get away and play in the environment,” Fair said. “It’s almost like another home game. We should have big fan support. I am excited to play there.”
Accustomed to an ACC schedule, Virginia Tech shouldn’t be intimidated by the crowd or top-caliber competition. The Hokies have upset the nation’s top-ranked team in two of the past three seasons, defeating Wake Forest in 2009, then knocking off Duke 64-60 on Feb. 11.
Virginia Tech is bidding to open 4-0 for the first time since 2004-05. The Hokies earned their trip to New York for this semifinal by beating Florida International 78-63 at home last Tuesday. Senior guard Dorenzo Hudson led the way with 31 points while making all 12 of his free throws and 3 of 5 3-point attempts.
Hudson, who earned ACC Co-Player of the Week honors for his efforts, is averaging a team-high 19.0 points.
“It’ll be a very good experience for the young guys,” Hudson, who played at MSG as a freshman and sophomore, told Virginia Tech’s official website. “They’ll get to see what the Garden is all about.
“But at the same time, we need to go up there and try to get that win. I don’t know a lot about Syracuse, but I know we better be ready to play against 40 minutes of zone and knock down some shots.”
The Orange and Hokies faced each other three times - all at the Carrier Dome - while Virginia Tech was a member of the Big East. Syracuse won all three, most recently a 76-64 victory Jan. 31, 2004.