SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—It took Kris Joseph one half to adjust to his new role as a starter for No. 10 Syracuse. After one game, he likes the fit.
Spurred by a comment from freshman Dion Waiters and a vocal halftime speech by coach Jim Boeheim, Joseph scored 13 of his 14 points in the second half, Rick Jackson also scored 14 points, and the Orange recovered from a slow start to beat Northern Iowa 68-46 on Friday night in the season opener for both teams.
Joseph, held to one free throw in the first half, scored 10 points and Jackson had six in the first seven minutes of the second half to key a 19-5 run that gave Syracuse a 36-21 lead at 14:48.
“Coach told us to relax and just play,” said Joseph, who missed a 3 on the game’s first shot and was called for a charge before either team had scored. “In the first half, I was thinking too much. When you overthink, things get harder. People who say basketball is 90 percent mental are right. I had the charge and a few other plays, and you get frustrated, but you have to keep your head.”
It was the 830th career victory for Boeheim, tying him with Jim Phelan of Mount St. Mary’s for fifth all-time in Division I. And Boeheim was pleased with the way his team responded in the second half against the two-time defending Missouri Valley champions, who toppled top-seeded Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament in March.
“It was a tough game to start with because they’re so patient and they’re a very good defensive team,” Boeheim said. “Kris is obviously key for us. He had nothing in the first half and we struggled. He got going in the second half. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board and get ready for Sunday (against Canisius).”
Johnny Moran scored 15 points and Anthony James had 12 for the Panthers, who dropped to 0-9 against Big East teams. They could have used the deft shooting touch of Ali Farokhmanesh, who made 77 3-pointers last season, including the gutsy one in the final minute that beat the Jayhawks. The Panthers shot 6 of 33 on 3-pointers and 27.3 percent overall from the field for the game.
“This is as hard a game as you’re going to play,” Panthers coach Ben Jacobson said. “It’s a very good test, a very good challenge. That’s the best way to prepare your team. I thought our guys, for the first time seeing this zone and the length and ground they can cover, did well. I give our guys a lot of credit.”
Joseph started the decisive rally with a 3 from the top of the key, Waiters hit a 3 from the right wing and Jackson’s baseline hook gave Syracuse a 36-21 lead at 14:48.
The Panthers tried to rally from long range, but only Kerwin Dunham and Moran connected in the first 11 minutes as Northern Iowa fell behind by as many as 19.
“In the first half, we really didn’t know what to expect,” said Jackson, who had seven rebounds, two blocks, two steals and matched his career high with four assists. “They took us a little by surprise and we were a little nervous. We really did a good job on defense, and that helped our offense.”
One of Boeheim’s biggest concerns was replacing the outside prowess of Big East player of the year Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins, who both shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc last season. After hitting 11 of 16 3-pointers in an easy exhibition win Tuesday night over Division II Le Moyne, doing it against the man-to-man defense of the Panthers wasn’t nearly so easy in the first half as the Orange made just 2 of 9.
The second half was completely different as Joseph came alive, hitting 2 of 3 from beyond the arc, and Syracuse hit 7 of 10 3-pointers in pulling away.
The Panthers milked the clock in an effort to slow the game, but they missed some open looks when the game was still close.
“It’s a big defense. Those guys are long,” said senior guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe, who had seven points and four assists but missed all eight shots he took from beyond the arc. “We got some great looks. A great team like that, it’s tough to keep them down.”
Scoop Jardine and Joseph excelled as the first players off the Orange bench last season, combining to average nearly 20 points a game. Both moved into the starting lineup this season and while Joseph found his game Jardine never did. Jardine failed to score, going 0 for 7, missing three attempts from beyond the arc.
Joseph, who got an earful from Boeheim after failing to snare a rebound just past the midpoint of the first half, airballed a 3 at the buzzer and the Orange went into the locker room with a 23-20 lead.
“Dion told me to calm down and get going,” Joseph said.
Both teams struggled at the outset, each missing nine of 11 shots and combining to go 1 of 12 from beyond the arc. When Jackson hit two free throws for the Orange with 8:51 left in the first half, the score was tied at 12-all.
“I think everybody was nervous in the first half,” said Waiters, who had 10 points in his debut. “At halftime, Coach told us to keep our poise, just play basketball and have fun.”