No. 18 Syracuse 81, Northeastern 58
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—Syracuse again rediscovered the obvious. The Orange struggle playing man-to-man defense and excel in their 2-3 zone.
Eric Devendorf had 19 points and a career-high eight assists, and Terrence Roberts grabbed 13 rebounds as the 18th-ranked Orange stumbled mightily at the start before overwhelming Northeastern 81-58 on Wednesday night.
The Huskies made their season opener interesting, going 9-for-11 and running to an early 15-point lead before the game was seven minutes old against the Orange’s man defense.
“Northeastern was extremely well prepared,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who moved past Jerry Tarkanian into 15th place in Division I with 730 career victories. “It’s hard to explain to your players sometimes that a team can really shoot the ball. In the first few plays, we had a hand up, we were close to them, but we didn’t stop the shot. And they made them.”
A four-point play by Matt Janning and a 3 by Adrian Martinez from the top of the arc gave Northeastern a 15-5 edge at 15:48. Another 3 by Bennet Davis from the top of the key completed a 15-0 run and gave Northeastern a 22-7 lead at 13:27.
“That’s what is going to happen when you play guys that can shoot,” Boeheim said. “We didn’t guard people in the beginning.”
Syracuse center Darryl Watkins was not a factor because he was sporting a pair of black eyes from a blow to the nose in the Orange’s win over UTEP on Sunday and played only four minutes in the first half before picking up three fouls in the first five minutes of the second. So, Roberts keyed the Orange defense inside and his teammates kept hitting from outside.
“Mookie (Watkins) was struggling, so the team really called on me to get in there and do my best defensively,” Roberts said. “I’ve been one of the leaders on the team, and Coach kind of got on me early in the game for letting a guy shoot wide-open jump shots.”
Boeheim was pleased with how his center performed.
“He (Roberts) really kept the ball out of the post, did as good a job defending the middle of that area as anybody has in a long time,” he said. “He won the game on the boards and defensively.”
Devendorf, freshman Paul Harris and Andy Rautins, who finished with a career-high 13 points, led an impressive comeback. Once the Orange switched to a smaller lineup and its trademark defense, the Huskies wilted. They made only 5 of 21 shots the remainder of the half and shot just 28.1 percent in the second.
“We started the game the way we wanted,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “We had some good execution and we got some good looks at the basket. The key to the game was when Syracuse went zone. We just struggled to get those same looks.
“No matter how much you prepare for a 2-3 zone in practice, you can’t simulate the kind of length and athleticism that Syracuse has.”
Harris had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Demetris Nichols had 15 points. Syracuse (4-0) has had four or more players in double figures in each game.
Janning had 16 points, Martinez 13 and Davis 12 to lead Northeastern.
It was a game of runs, and Syracuse made most of them. The Orange tied it at 27-all with an 11-point burst. Rautins made a 3 from right wing to start it, Devendorf made a layup and another 3, and Nichols finished it with a 3 from the top of the key.
The Orange closed the half with another 11-0 run. Devendorf converted a fast-break layup and hit a 3 from the top of the key. Rautins fed Harris for a dunk at the buzzer for a 41-33 lead.
“We kind of came out sluggish and really didn’t take the game that serious in the beginning,” said Devendorf, who registered six assists in a seven-minute span. “Then we saw we were down 15 points and we had to make a run.”
The Huskies slowed the tempo to start the second half, and two 3-pointers by Martinez and another by Janning helped them move within 46-43 with just over 16 minutes left.
But Syracuse, which finished 10-for-21 on 3-pointers and outrebounded Northeastern 45-26, stormed back with a 12-3 run to gain control for good. Devendorf hit his fourth 3 of the game, Rautins made his third, and Nichols converted a three-point play for a 58-46 lead with 12:42 left.
Harris put an exclamation point on the triumph with a steal and thundering one-hand dunk that elicited a standing ovation from the Carrier Dome crowd and gave Syracuse a 72-54 edge with 6:03 left.
“I’m just trying to get better every day,” Harris said after his second double-double of the young season. “I think about midseason I’ll be OK.”