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Rebounding edge allows Syracuse to overtake Providence

The SportsXchange

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was hardly impressed with his team's shooting for the second straight game.

"It's probably the worst shooting night we've had," he said.

Not quite, but it certainly was close.

C.J. Fair scored 23 points and added 11 rebounds, Michael Carter-Williams had 17 points, and the seventh-ranked Orange overcame a poor performance from the field by continually pounding the offensive glass during a 72-66 victory over Providence on Wednesday night.

Rakeem Christmas netted 15 points and James Southerland added 13 for Syracuse (15-1, 3-0 Big East). The Orange won their fifth straight game thanks to a dominating performance on the boards, outrebounding the Friars 41-27 overall and 18-9 on the offensive end.

Providence's 2-3 zone, nearly identical to that of Syracuse, flustered the Orange for most of the game, pressuring Syracuse into a dismal 3-for-21 performance from beyond the 3-point arc.

"Offensively, we haven't seen zones much," Boeheim said. "When you don't shoot, it's hard to get ahead against teams playing zone. I know that.

"But we made the plays down the stretch that we had to and won the game."

Bryce Cotton scored 17 of his 24 points in the first half for the Friars (8-7, 0-3), who dropped their fifth straight. LaDontae Henton added 10 points.

"We played a really talented team, a long team, a veteran team. We had our chances," Friars coach Ed Cooley said. "Look right at the rebounding stat and that will tell you the game. You give somebody -- a great team like that -- 18 extra opportunities to score, it's only going to be so long."

Despite averaging a Big East-best 79.9 points per game, Syracuse struggled for the second time in four days, shooting 41.9 percent (26-for-62). The Orange shot a season-worst 36.5 percent from the field in a 55-44 win over South Florida on Sunday, a display Boeheim described as one of the worst offensive performances he has seen.

"I don't like what we're doing. I don't like how we're playing," he said. "I just can't accept that."

Trailing by as many as nine in the first half and three at halftime, the Orange crept their way back into the contest midway through the second half thanks to second-, third- and sometimes fourth-chance baskets.

Syracuse took its first lead since owning a 19-18 advantage when Christmas made two free throws to stake the Orange to a 40-39 lead.

Cotton later put the Friars back on top when he followed his own missed 3-pointer with a huge offensive rebound that he then dropped through the net on a nifty reverse layup with 13:07 remaining.

Syracuse's height advantage was never more evident than when the Orange yanked down four straight offensive rebounds before Fair banked in a layup and Southerland hit a 3-pointer for a 47-43 edge with 11:20 to go.

"It was a tough contest. We were fortunate to stick it out," Fair said. "I was just trying to be aggressive. A couple of my teammates weren't making their shots. We just stuck with it."

With the home crowd behind them, the Friars kept their composure against the national powerhouse and tied the game on two consecutive layups from Vincent Council.

That's as close as they got.

The Orange continued to crash the boards, as Brandon Triche followed a miss with a layup, and Fair then slipped behind the defense along the baseline and slammed home a perfect alley-oop pass from Carter-Williams to put Syracuse on top 51-48.

"Being in a zone, you've got to be tough and find a spot to be aggressive," Fair said. "My teammates did a good job of finding me."

Despite hitting just two of their first 18 3-pointers, the Orange persisted and finally hit another when Carter-Williams delivered from deep for a 54-50 lead with 6:46 remaining.

Providence persevered, though.

Council answered with a trey of his own, an off-balance, desperation heave as the shot clock expired, whittling the deficit to one with just more than six minutes to play.

The Friars, however, had no answer for Syracuse's height advantage down the stretch.

Fair followed his own miss with an easy basket and then slammed home a missed layup with 4:40 left, handing the Orange their biggest lead of the second half to that point at 58-53.

"There were some long dudes in there," Cooley said. "Long jokers in there, boy."

After a pair of free throws trimmed the deficit to eight points with under a minute to play, Josh Fortune brought the Friars within four with 34 seconds to go, but the Orange maintained their lead from the free-throw line in the waning moments.

"It feels good. A win is a win," Triche said. "You always want to do better, but when you're able to come out with a win when you don't play well, you feel good."

NOTES: This was the 57th all-time meeting between the two teams. Syracuse leads the series 47-10 ... Providence fell to 101-232 all-time versus top-25 teams. ... Triche was named the Big East Player of the Week last week, averaging 19.3 points, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals in leading Syracuse to a 3-0 mark. ... Boeheim ranks second on the all-time Division-I wins list with 904. ... The Orange are playing in their 34th and final season in the Big East.
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