No. 4 Syracuse 86, Rutgers 84

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP)—Victory No. 696 for Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim wasn’t like many of the others.

The fourth-ranked Orange had to rally from an 18-point halftime deficit and then watch a final shot by Rutgers roll around and out at the buzzer before posting an 86-84 victory on Monday night.

“It was a great finish, a great comeback, one of the best I have been a part of,” Boeheim said. “There is no doubt at halftime this was looking like a 25-point game the wrong way.”

Terrence Roberts’ three-point play with 7.2 seconds left capped the comeback, but the win wasn’t secure until Quincy Douby’s 3-point shot with just over a second left spun around the rim and fell off, leaving the sellout crowd in silence.

It was the 13th consecutive win for Syracuse (20-1, 7-0 Big East), which is the first Division I team to reach 20 victories this season.

“If we would have lost that game on the last play I would have been upset with myself because I don’t feel I communicated the message well,” Boeheim said.

The win gave him 20 victories for the 27th time in his 29 seasons at his alma mater. Boeheim moved into a tie with Texas Tech’s Bob Knight for second place among coaches with 20-win seasons, three behind former North Carolina coach Dean Smith.

None of that mattered after the game that would have been Rutgers’ biggest win ever. The highest-ranked team the Scarlet Knights have beaten was No. 6 West Virginia in February 1982.

“If we would have come out with that win it would have given them their second loss of the season and boosted our confidence,” Douby said.

Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick each had 21 points for Syracuse.

Ricky Shields had 20 points and 11 rebounds for Rutgers (7-9, 1-5), which has lost six of seven.

It didn’t look like Syracuse would have any chance at the 20th win when Rutgers led 54-36 after closing the first half with a 21-3 run.

“We could have been very discouraged and very down but we weren’t. We were mad,” Boeheim said.

And the coach didn’t get on his team. The players got on themselves.

“Great teams are going to have accept criticism, and we all dished it out to each other. That’s what it’s about,” McNamara said. “If you can still love each other and care about each other after you just screamed in each other’s face, that’s what’s going to make a great team.”

Warrick said the players challenged each other to play their best basketball of the season.

“I’ve been in comebacks but not that fast,” he said. “To be down 18, turn it around and actually go up six says a lot about this team.”

Syracuse went to a fullcourt press and forced turnovers on the Scarlet Knights’ first three possessions to open the second half with a 9-0 run. Abandoning its vaunted matchup zone defense for man-to-man, Syracuse had the deficit to 58-53 in the first 2 1/2 minutes.

The Orange started to dominate on the offensive boards to keep chipping away, and a 3-pointer by McNamara with 10:01 to play brought them within 70-69.

Rutgers scored four straight points to get the lead back to five, but Syracuse went on an 11-0 run that was capped by McNamara’s fifth 3-pointer and the Orange were ahead 80-74 with 5:56 to play.

“The press really turned the game around,” Warrick said. “We forced them into things they didn’t want to do and they rushed things.”

But Rutgers wasn’t done.

The Scarlet Knights managed to take the lead two more times, the last at 84-83 on two free throws by Dan Waterstradt with 27 seconds left. The 6-foot-11 freshman was 0-for-2 from the line for the season before then.

Josh Pace missed a shot in the lane with 10 seconds left and Roberts put in the rebound and was fouled. His free throw gave him five points for the game and made it 86-84.

“I made a good spin, went up and I was in the right place at the right time,” Roberts said.

Rutgers took a timeout, and its final play was the 3 by Douby that came as close to going in as a ball can without counting.

Douby, who had 11 points, was 3-for-10 on 3s, missing three in the final 2 minutes.

“I shot it a little quick and I thought it was still going down,” Douby said. “I had my follow through, it just wasn’t enough.”

Waterstradt, who made the pass to Douby, had a good look at the final shot.

“It was an unlucky roll. I thought it was in,” he said. “I was at halfcourt, arms up. It was one of those weird shots, it was in, rolled around and came out.”

Rutgers’ close to the first half saw it go 6-for-8 from the field, including 3-for-3 on 3s, in the final 6 minutes. The Orange, meanwhile, had one field goal in the final 7 minutes, going 1-for-8 with three turnovers.

“We were probably a little too happy, I’m not going to lie,” Douby said of Rutgers’ reaction at halftime.

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