SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—James Southerland has spent too much time on the Syracuse bench and his confidence has wavered. For one night, that all changed.
With freshman C.J. Fair in street clothes nursing a left ankle injury, coach Jim Boeheim gave the 6-foot-8 sophomore a season-high 21 minutes and Southerland responded by scoring a career-high 18 points as the fifth-ranked Orange beat Morgan State 97-55 on Monday night.
“I know in the beginning of the season I was shooting 2 for 18, so I just tried to stay focused and start hitting my shots,” said Southerland, who swished 4 of 6 from beyond the arc against the overmatched Bears. “I was definitely more focused knowing I was going to be needed and I stayed focused because you never know when coach is going to put you in the game. This does a lot for my confidence.”
Southerland also had five rebounds and blocked two shots as the Orange (12-0) played their most unselfish game of the season. Syracuse had 34 assists— four off the school record—on its 39 baskets, made 12 of 25 3-pointers—the Orange were averaging 31 percent for the season from beyond the arc— outrebounded the Bears 47-28, and quickly turned the game into a rout.
“We’re always an unselfish team,” guard Scoop Jardine said. “It felt like last year’s team. We made shots. Everybody was making shots.”
Rick Jackson had 18 points and nine rebounds, and despite a sore right calf muscle freshman center Fab Melo had his most effective game of the season for the Orange, scoring a season-high nine points and blocking four shots. Brandon Triche had his third straight solid game with seven points and seven assists and freshman center Baye Moussa Keita had a season-high eight points.
Morgan State (4-5), the two-time defending champion of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, was no match for one of only eight unbeatens remaining in Division I. Kevin Thompson led the Bears with 15 points and freshman Justin Black had 14.
Syracuse used its defense, unselfishness, a dose of finesse, and some pinpoint accuracy from long range to open a lead that ballooned to as many as 19 points in the first half.
Syracuse had 16 assists on 19 baskets, five blocks, five steals, 11 second-chance points to zero for Morgan State, and limited the Bears to 34.6 percent (9 of 26) shooting in building a 44-29 halftime lead. The Orange also hit 5 of 9 from beyond the arc in the opening period, two each by Southerland and Mookie Jones, who was playing in only his seventh game of the season.
“They’re really good, they’re really long, they’re really big, and they’re unselfish,” Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman said. “Thirty-four 34 assists? You just don’t get 34 assists, and Southerland was 5 of 22 coming in, and he shoots the lights out. They’re good.”
Blocks by Melo and Jackson led to a pair of layups in transition by Triche, and a pair of pretty passes in the lane by Melo set up easy layups for Jackson on consecutive possessions in the opening minutes.
Black kept the Bears close, hitting a pair of 3s from the top of the key and converting a runner in the lane in the first 9:05 of play.
After a layup by DeWayne Jackson moved Morgan State within 22-16 at 11:10, Syracuse went on a 12-0 run to take command.
Southerland started it with a 3 from the left corner off a steal by Jackson, and Jackson followed with a dunk off a pretty pass from freshman guard Dion Waiters, one of his season-high eight assists.
Triche then fed Keita for a layup and Jackson for a dunk, and Waiters completed the spurt with a no-look, over-the-shoulder pass to Jackson for another basket that boosted the lead to 34-16 with 8:14 left.
The second half was more of the same.
Syracuse was coming off an 83-77 win over Iona on Saturday night, a game in which the Orange nearly squandered a 15-point lead in the closing minutes. That wasn’t about to happen again, and even when Boeheim emptied his bench in the closing minutes the onslaught continued by the Orange walkons.
Consecutive 3s by Griffin Hoffmann and Matt Tomaszewski and a fast-break layup by Brandon Reese finished the beat-down.
“It was hard. They’re really long, and they score the ball,” Thompson said. “We watched them on film. They really wasn’t shooting it that deep. That surprised me a lot.”