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Syracuse routs DePaul in final Big East home game

The SportsXchange

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Syracuse ushered out the era of Big East basketball in the Carrier Dome in traditional style Wednesday night.

The Orange slapped its trademark zone defense on DePaul and romped to a 78-57 win in the final Big East Conference game played on its home court.

Senior forward James Southerland paced the 17th-ranked Orange (23-7, 11-6 Big East) with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and guard C.J. Fair added 16 points. Cleveland Melvin topped DePaul (11-19, 2-15) with 15 points and eight rebounds.

The Orange, which is moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season, wrapped its zone around the Blue Demons and held them to 37.7 percent shooting from the floor and 27.8 percent accuracy (5-for-18) from behind the 3-point arc.

"It's been the key all season," Syracuse guard Brandon Triche said of the team's defense. "I think (it's) just the extra-effort plays. We made a lot of them this year. If we make the extra-effort plays, we're going to be good."

The Orange's defense has to take the spotlight because its offense remains hit-and-miss. Actually, mostly miss. The Orange shot just 38.8 percent from the field Wednesday and 2-for-18 from 3-point range.

"We're still making some bad plays, some bad decisions we shouldn't be making at this time of year," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "We're better than 2-for-18."

Still, Syracuse managed to snap its three-game losing streak by pulling away during a lukewarm second half. The Blue Demons gave the Orange an initial pause in the second half by switching from a 2-3 zone to a 2-2-1 defense.

"We felt like coming in, they weren't shooting the ball well," DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. "If we could make them shoot the ball from the outside, we'd have a chance."

The Orange went 6 minutes, 10 seconds without a field goal in the second half but actually managed to pull away from the frosty-shooting Blue Demons during that span.

Southerland sank two foul shots to lift the Orange to a 50-39 lead with 9:18 remaining, and Triche tossed in three on Syracuse's next two possessions. That was a touch that eluded DePaul: The Blue Demons were just 9-for-20 from the foul line in the second half, 12-for-24 overall.

"That kept us from keeping it close," Purnell said. "We didn't make free throws down the stretch, to be inside of 10, be inside of eight. They are so good defensively, you have to make your free throws."

Brandon Young rolled in a layup with 8:08 left to cut DePaul's deficit to 53-41, but Fair then hammered home a dunk off a feed from Michael Carter-Williams to put the Orange in front 55-41. That field goal was Syracuse's first since the six-minute mark of the second half.

Southerland followed with a sideline drive and dunk with 7:21 left, a bucket that the Blue Demon' Moses Morgan countered with a foul shot.

Rakeem Christmas then had Syracuse's third straight slam, off an alley-oop pass from Triche, expanding the Orange's lead to 59-42.

Syracuse sprinted off on a 15-2 run in the final 5:37 of the first half to earn a 35-26 edge at the break.

With Syracuse trailing 24-20, Christmas bounced a shot off the rim that dropped through the net, and Fair, who scored 11 in the first half, threw down a dunk off a feed from Carter-Williams to knot the game at 24.

Southerland pushed Syracuse ahead with 4:21 left in the half when he put back a second chance of his own shot, drew a foul and completed a three-point play.

"I felt like we were a little too laid back. At the end of the first half, we started attacking," Southerland said.

"We need to do that because we're missing a lot of shots," Boeheim said of grabbing offense boards. "The bad news is we're missing a lot of shots."

Triche then shook free with a hesitation move that set him up for a left-handed runner, and he added a foul shot that gave the Orange a 30-24 cushion with 3:27 remaining.

Fair had a rebound basket and then a 3-pointer with 1:14 remaining in the half to give Syracuse a 35-24 lead.

That run helped set up the Orange's eventual win, a victory that didn't soften its coach any when it came to reflecting upon the departure of Big East action from the dome.

"I won't think about it for 10 years, if I think about it then," Boeheim said. "I'm not that (sentimental kind of) guy."

NOTES: Triche, a senior playing in his final home game, made his 137th career start for the Orange, breaking a tie with Craig Forth for second place on the school's all-time list. ... Besides Triche, Southerland was honored before the contest as a senior playing in his last home game. ... Syracuse has won at least 20 games in a season 35 times in Boeheim's 37 years as head coach. ... Melvin blocked one shot. He needs one more block to become the 100th player in program history with 100 career rejections. ... Young needs two 3-pointers to become the fourth DePaul player in school history with at least 1,200 career points, 300 assists and 100 treys. He went 1-for-2 from long distance Wednesday, and he finished with 12 points and six assists.
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