SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—Gerry McNamara has that swagger again.
Coming off two lackluster performances, the junior guard had 19 points, 10 assists and a career-high nine rebounds to lead No. 7 Syracuse past Rice 88-72 on Wednesday night.
It was the third victory in five days for the Orange (11-1), but in wins over Drexel and Cornell, McNamara was off his game, scoring a total of 14 points and committing eight turnovers to go with eight assists. Against the Owls (5-3), the old McNamara turned up, keying a decisive 17-4 spurt early in the second half to break open what had been a tight game.
“I have to score and I have to be able to run an offense,” said McNamara, whose greatest accomplishment might have been getting 7-foot center Craig Forth to emerge from a season-long slumber. “If I do that well, we’ll be successful. The last few games we struggled because I didn’t play that well. Tonight, I was a different player.”
McNamara and Forth sparked the Syracuse surge, which broke open a game that was tied nine times in the first half. Forth, who went scoreless in three straight games and had watched his playing time dwindle, fed Hakim Warrick for a layup to begin the run and give Syracuse a 42-37 lead at 18:38.
McNamara then worked his magic, assisting on baskets by Louie McCroskey and Josh Pace before stealing a pass and dashing the length of the court for a layup.
“Gerry was back. Obviously, we’re a different offensive team when he plays,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We struggled for two games when he struggled. We hit a good stretch at the end of the first half, and defensively we picked it up at the start of the second.”
McNamara’s steal was the fifth turnover in just over 4 minutes by the Owls, who committed only four in the first 20 minutes in trailing 39-34.
“We were in a situation where they scored and we tried to answer and then turned it over,” Rice coach Willis Wilson said. “We had poor balance, and it went from a five- or six-point game to double digits. It changed the way we approached the game. When you’re on the road, the good home teams are always going to make a run at you. The question is, are you in a position to absorb the blow?”
The Owls, who lost at No. 11 Connecticut on Sunday, weren’t as McNamara turned up the pressure. He fed Forth for a dunk at 14:15, hit a long jumper from the top of the key off a screen by Forth, and passed to him for another dunk while tumbling to the floor as the Carrier Dome crowd stood and roared.
“Gerry told me at halftime to play hard, play like a beast,” said Forth, who was fouled on the play and completed a three-point play for a 57-44 lead with 12:52 left. “Gerry had faith in me, and the team had faith in me, and it worked out.”
Pace equaled his career-high with 22 points and Warrick finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. Forth had a season-high 14 points, only the second time this season he scored in double figures.
Michael Harris had 25 points and eight rebounds for Rice, while Jason McKrieth, who grew up in Schenectady and was recruited by Syracuse, had 16 points and six assists. Brock Gillespie scored 15 points for the Owls.
Syracuse hit 19 of 28 shots in the second half, but a fast-break layup by Gillespie pulled the Owls within 63-53 with 9:44 to go. Any hope of a comeback was quickly dashed on consecutive baskets by Pace and Forth and two free throws by Pace in the next 90 seconds.
“We have to be consistent,” said McKrieth, who played against Forth in high school. “When you play teams that are in the Top 25, you see they’re consistent in what they do. When you’re a hungry team like us trying to get to that level, we get inconsistent at times.”