SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—Here’s a frightening thought—Demetris Nichols says he can play better, and so does his coach.
Nichols matched his career high for the second straight game, scoring 28 points, including 10 straight in the first 2:31 of the second half, and No. 23 Syracuse beat Baylor 94-71 on Saturday night.
Nichols has scored 20 or more points in six of the past seven games, and in the last three is 32-for-50 from the floor, including 13-for-24 on 3-pointers. It’s the best streak in the senior forward’s career at Syracuse.
“My teammates did a great job of finding me and I’m knocking down the shots. That’s making it easy for everybody,” said Nichols, who a week ago hit six straight 3-pointers in the second half against Colgate and outscored the Raiders 24-22 in the period despite sitting out the final seven minutes. “But I missed a lot of easy buckets in the middle tonight. I know I can play better.”
It was the first meeting between Syracuse (9-2) and Baylor (6-3), which lost for the 23rd straight time to a ranked team. That the Bears’ trip from Waco, Texas, was daunting certainly didn’t help them.
It took the team 28 hours to make the trek after their original flight was canceled, and they missed their scheduled practice Friday night at the Carrier Dome Friday, instead conducting a walk-through at a vacant gate at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.
And when the Bears finally did make it onto Jim Boeheim Court, they did so in Syracuse practice uniforms while awaiting the arrival of their lost luggage.
Still, they didn’t use that as an alibi.
“It’s not really an excuse,” said freshman guard Tweety Carter, who had a season-high 31 points, hitting 7-of-12 3-pointers. “We were able to get rest. Coach should be more tired than us.”
Especially after watching Syracuse win the rebounding battle 44-28. The Orange entered the game with a rebounding margin of just plus-.4
“When you play on the road, you know travel woes happen,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They beat us up on the boards, and there’s no rhyme or reason or excuse for that. They just wanted it more and dominated us there. Hopefully, this will help us get better knowing what we have to do on the road against top-25 teams.”
The 6-foot-8 Nichols had a solid first half with 11 points, two assists and two blocks as Syracuse built a 12-point lead. He gave the Orange a commanding edge in the opening minutes of the second period, hitting a jumper in the lane and converting a layup off a feed from Terrence Roberts before draining two 3-pointers.
The second 3 by Nichols gave Syracuse a 51-31 lead with 17:29 left, and the Bears never came close the rest of the game.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence, and guys are looking for him,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He’s putting the ball on the floor, something he didn’t do his first three years, and he’s pulling up and making shots off the dribble. He’s getting better, but I think he’s still capable of an even higher level.”
“They did a good job of isolating him,” Drew said. “Credit them with taking advantage of that.”
Darryl Watkins matched his career high with 15 points and pulled down eight rebounds for Syracuse, and freshman Paul Harris had the same totals, all in the second half after playing just one minute in the first. Sophomore guard Andy Rautins had 11 points in his first career start for the Orange. He took the starting slot of Eric Devendorf, who had 11 points off the bench.
Syracuse methodically built a 41-29 lead with one of its best opening halves of the season. The Orange committed only six turnovers, had 11 assists on 14 baskets, and went 11-for-12 from the free throw line. Their only failure was to connect from long range, going just 2-for-14, but the Bears made only 1-of-9 from beyond the arc and fell too far behind.