SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—Jim Boeheim isn’t sure anyone can stop Iona’s Mike Glover. His Syracuse Orange couldn’t and it nearly cost them.
Kris Joseph scored 21 points as the Orange looked imperfect in extending their unblemished start to 11 games by hanging on for an 83-77 win over the Gaels (7-4) on Saturday night.
Though Boeheim was pleased with the way his offense secured the win, he was unhappy with how the Orange’s usually stingy defense nearly let them down. Then again, Glover had something to do with that.
“Glover is about as good as anybody we’ll play against,” Boeheim said. “We didn’t control Glover—that was our biggest problem. I’m not sure who can. But I’d like to think we could’ve done a little better job.”
Entering the game averaging 22.1 points and 9.6 rebounds, the Gaels’ junior forward secured his sixth straight double-double—and that was before the first half was over— and finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds.
That was enough to give the Orange fits in a game the Gaels (7-4) never led. They did manage to score the most points against a stingy defense that had been allowing an average of 57 this season.
“We didn’t underestimate him,” Joseph said. “He definitely showed he can play in the bigger conferences.”
Brandon Triche added 14 points and seven assists as the Orange opened with 11 straight wins for the 11th time in Boeheim’s 35 seasons and 15th time in school history.
Kyle Smyth scored 22 points for the Gaels, who had a seven-game win streak snapped. Though the loss was disappointing for Iona, the outcome provided a boost for a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference team that’s now lost all four games this season by a combined 19 points.
“We obviously learned tonight that we could play with anybody,” Smyth said. “Their home floor, hard place to play, and we came out and just continued to play hard. We figured out that for the MAAC season now, we’re going to be ready for that just by how we played tonight.”
It was a sloppy mistake-filled game on both ends, with neither team able to establish any type of rhythm.
The Orange looked rusty and sloppy at times in playing their first game in a week, since a 100-43 win over Colgate on Dec. 11. They nearly squandered an 11-point lead in the first half by allowing the Gaels to cut it to 33-31 when Jermel Jenkins hit a 3-point shot with 2 minutes left.
It got scarier in the second half, as the Orange nearly squandered a 15-point lead in allowing the Gaels to close to 77-71 with 1:36 left.
After James Southerland turned the ball over, the Gaels had a chance to get even closer but Smyth missed an open 3-point shot on their next possession.
Scoop Jardine hit a pair of free throws to regain the 8-point edge in helping Boeheim win his 840th game.
“We didn’t really play well,” said Orange forward Rick Jackson, who finished with eight points—the first time he was held under 10 points this season. “We need to do a better job at the end of games, handling the ball and locating the shooter better.”
The Orange only committed 10 turnovers, but two came on consecutive possessions in the final two minutes.
“It’s always difficult to come out of the exam break and get yourself ready,” Boeheim said. “But Iona is a really good team. They’re going to be tough to beat in their league.”
Glover missed only two of his 11 shots and was a force inside, by out-muscling the Orange’s bigger and more physical forwards. He was creative in getting himself open, several times hooking up with guard Scott Machado (13 assists) with give-and-goes and alley-oops.
The trouble for the Gaels was they couldn’t get the rest of their offense going.
Jenkins hit only 2 of 10 3-point attempts, while Smyth started cold, missing seven of his first nine attempts, before finishing 7 of 18.
“We had some really good looks. And you have to make those shots to win or make an upset,” Gaels coach Tim Cluess said. “But I was I was really proud of our guys’ efforts in not folding because it could have happened easily.”
Syracuse freshman forward Fab Melo continued to be bothered by a right calf injury. He left the court limping less than two minutes into the second half and didn’t return.
Forward C.J. Fair missed the second half after spraining his ankle. Boeheim said Fair’s ankle is swollen, leaving his status uncertain for Syracuse’s game against Morgan State on Monday.