SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—If Wes Johnson ever breaks a sweat, watch out.
Again making the game look as effortless as one could imagine, Johnson scored a career-high 26 points in only 28 minutes on the floor to lead No. 10 Syracuse over Columbia, 85-60, on Friday night.
“I’m just out there having fun,” said Johnson, in his first year playing for the Orange after transferring from Iowa State. “Everybody is flowing annd I’m back to my normal self.”
Arinze Onuaku added 12 points for Syracuse, Rick Jackson had 10 points and nine rebounds, and Scoop Jardine had eight points, seven assists and five steals for the Orange, who are averaging 15 thefts a game.
Noruwa Agho finished with 22 points for Columbia.
Syracuse (6-0) struggled to pull away from the Lions (2-2) in the first half before dominating the second.
Five points from Onuaku—on a three-point play and layup off a feed from Johnson—and Johnson’s 3-pointer from the left side built Syracuse’s 36-27 halftime lead to 44-27 with 17:31 left.
Then, in a span of 67 seconds, Johnson hit a pair of 3s and Mookie Jones hit another from the top of the key to complete a 19-3 spurt and boost the lead to 55-30 at 13:55.
“We moved the ball better,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said after his 805th career win, seventh all-time in Division I and one more than Eddie Sutton. “They were giving us open looks. In the second half, we did a better job getting the ball to the right guy.”
Syracuse shot 52.6 percent, outscored the Lions 40-18 in the paint and 16-2 on the fast break, and had 29 points off Columbia’s 20 turnovers.
“They played the zone as well as any Syracuse team that I’ve seen, to be honest,” said Columbia coach Joe Jones, who graduated from nearby Oswego State and was an assistant at Villanova. “They didn’t even look to trap us that much and they turned us over a bunch. You’re just not used to facing that kind of pressure constantly.
“I thought, mentally, they wore us down, and their athletic ability just took over,” Jones said.
If not for Agho, the Lions, who have six first-year players, would have been in trouble very early. Agho, who entered the game shooting 77.8 percent (14 of 18) from beyond the arc, hit the first three 3-pointers he attempted—he finished 4 of 7 from long range—and had 11 of Columbia’s 13 points midway through the first half while his teammates were 1 of 9 from the floor.
“I think it got tough for us as a team. We started turning the ball over. They can do that to you,” Agho said. “I definitely thought we were still in the game (at halftime) and didn’t want to force bad shots.
“They make you take tough shots and it really becomes methodical,” Agho said. “If you don’t execute and you don’t run the plays the same way every time, they can force you to turn the ball over.”
After Agho swished a 3 from left wing and Steve Egee converted two free throws to move Columbia within 16-15 at 10:44, Syracuse scored eight straight points.
Johnson began the spurt by converting a tip follow off a miss by Brandon Triche, then stole the ball and fed Jardine for a fast-break layup. After Johnson sank a pair of free throws, Triche hit a driving layup off the glass for a 24-15 lead at 8:15.
A layup by John Daniels and a 3 by Niko Scott after a pair of strong offensive rebounds by Daniels had the Lions back within four points, but Jackson converted a three-point play and Johnson’s slam dunk and long baseline jumper gave the Orange their nine-point lead at the break.
With the game well in hand in the second half, Boeheim substituted freely, getting 14 players on the court.
None was happier than redshirt freshman Mookie Jones, who did not play in Syracuse’s 88-73 victory over two-time defending Ivy League champion Cornell on Tuesday and briefly stormed off the bench in that game. Jones had a career-high 12 points, all on 3-pointers.
“I’m trying to do whatever he (Boeheim) asks me so I can get out there,” said Jones, who played 12 of his 14 minutes in the second half. “I belong out there. Let me show you. I can do those things. I’m here to play, not sit on the bench.”