SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—Paul Harris certainly doesn’t play like a freshman—or act like one.
Harris had a season-high 17 points, Demetris Nichols added 21, and No. 17 Syracuse overcame another sloppy game to beat Charlotte 79-67 on Wednesday night.
Nichols often has been a reluctant shooter in his career with the Orange, but after Harris urged him in practice to shoot more, the senior forward finally obliged.
Nichols keyed a 13-4 run at the outset of the second half to break open a one-point game, scoring eight straight points in a 63-second span as Syracuse (5-0) gained a double-digit lead and was never challenged the remainder of the game.
“He’s the best player on the team and he’s got to act like it,” said the 6-foot-5 Harris, who led Syracuse with nine rebounds. “He’s got to take over when it’s time out there. He’s got to shoot the ball. He’s a great shooter— just shoot.”
Nichols did just that. He began his personal spurt with a midrange jumper, then hit consecutive 3-pointers from each corner to put Syracuse up 39-34 at 18:24.
“Coach wanted a spark, and when he sent me back in I felt like I had to do something,” said Nichols, who also had eight rebounds before fouling out in the final minutes. “My teammates found me, that’s all. Me and Paul are very, very close. We talk about the game all the time. We just try to encourage each other.”
It was the first meeting between the teams since Charlotte (1-2) ruined the afterglow of the Orange’s 2003 national championship with a 96-92 victory in the Carrier Dome to open the 2003-04 season.
Brendan Plavich hit a Carrier Dome record 10 3-pointers to key the only victory by a visitor in a Syracuse home opener since the facility opened in 1980. It also was the first time in NCAA history that a defending national champion was beaten in its home opener the following season.
There was no repeat performance on this night.
After Antwon Coleman converted a hook in the lane, Nichols hit his fifth 3-pointer of the game, this one from the top of the key to boost the lead to 44-36. Two free throws by Josh Wright made it a 10-point game with 16:47 left.
“We went from ahead to only down one,” Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. “They were very effective (in their man-to-man defense). We didn’t handle that as well as we would have liked. During that stretch, Nichols was really terrific. He made some big shots.”
Syracuse shot 11-for-22 on 3-pointers and was 24-for-28 from the free throw line. Charlotte was 11-for-37 from beyond the arc and shot just 32.4 percent from the floor.
Leemire Goldwire had 14 points to lead Charlotte, and E.J. Drayton had 10 points and nine rebounds. De’Angelo Alexander, who entered the game averaging 25.5 points, had 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting—1-for-8 in the second half trying to score against the muscular Harris.
“Harris did a good job on him,” Lutz said. “He missed three wide-open shots in the second half. You can say that was an after-effect, but I don’t think so. I think he just missed them.”
Wright had 14 points and eight assists and Eric Devendorf had 12 points despite early foul trouble.
Syracuse led 31-30 at halftime despite some sloppy play as the 49ers scored 13 points off 10 Orange turnovers. Charlotte, despite missing nine of its first 11 3-pointers, gained a 17-11 lead midway through the half on a basket from in close by Drayton.
With Devendorf on the bench with three fouls, Harris led Syracuse back. His steal and layup and short baseline jumper had the Orange within 19-15 with 8:39 left, and a 3-pointer by Nichols made it a one-point game.
The 49ers built the lead back to 27-20 on a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Carlos Williams with 4:34 left. But Nichols made a 3 from the top of the key, Harris grabbed the rebound of a missed 3 by Wright and fed Andy Rautins for a 3, and Harris made a free throw to tie it at 27 with 2:45 left.
“We were down. We scored in transition. That was the spark,” Nichols said. “Every time that we needed it, we did it.”
Syracuse center Darryl Watkins did not play after aggravating a nose injury he sustained against UTEP on Nov. 12. The 6-11 Watkins, who was re-injured in practice last weekend and needed a procedure to stop bleeding from a ruptured vessel in his nose, was replaced by Matt Gorman, who had six points and three blocks in his first career start.
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