SYRACUSE — Come on. That’s only the fourth-best team in the country? What’s the deal? Are there three more Dream Teams out there?
There seemed no end to the talent stream that Syracuse doused Canisius with on Saturday night at the Carrier Dome. The Orange tormented the Griffs with their slick backcourt, with their versatile forwards, with a bench that might make for one of Jim Boeheim’s deepest teams in his long and accomplished tenure.
The Orange (9-0) made enough threes to show they can shoot it, carved out a living in the paint and dunked with suitable frequency to entertain the home folk who anticipated a rout. And a rout is what it became when the ‘Cuse rebounded from a lackluster first half to pull away to an 85-61 victory that extended the nation’s longest home-court winning streak to 29 games. The Orange also have won 51 straight regular-season non-conference games.
Canisius (6-2) thwarted Syracuse’s attempts to pull away in the first half, grabbed a short-lived lead and then held tight, trailing by 35-32 at intermission. When play resumed, within minutes the Orange pressed their many advantages, opened a double-digit lead and then cruised to their 21st straight win in a series they lead, 46-25.
“I thought the first half we just weren’t as good defensively as we needed to be,” Boeheim said of career win No. 899. “The second half the first 10 minutes our defensive play got better. I thought it was really good, probably as good as it’s been, and offensively we executed better.”
Forward James Southerland, Syracuse’s second-leading scorer, testified to the Orange’s depth by pouring in a game-high 21 points off the bench. Sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams, the national leader in assists, dished out 14, almost four above his average. Thirteen of those came in the second half, when the Orange shot 61.8 percent and rolled up 50 points.
Guards Billy Baron and Isaac Sosa each had 15 points for Canisius, which entered on the high of its best seven-game start to a season since 1973-74.
Syracuse didn’t spend much time in the locker room at intermission, ostensibly because Boeheim delivered a concise message. To be sure, whatever he said had the desired effect. The Orange came out with a blitz that turned a 35-32 halftime lead into a 47-35 bulge inside the opening four minutes.
“The second half they came out and made some big plays, big shots,” said Griffs coach Jim Baron.
“They’re going to be a little ‘hipped’ to play against a Syracuse and we knew that,” said Syracuse guard Brandon Triche (19 points). “Their energy carried over to their defense and they were able to rebound too. They played hard in the first half. We were able to adjust and match their toughness and get it going in the second half.”
Syracuse’s wide assortment of offensive weapons began to render Canisius defenseless. Southerland, a 6-8 forward, hit a bomb from three. Rakeem Christmas, a 6-9 forward, made a mid-range jumper. Southerland finished a fast break with a resounding jam and C.J. Fair, another 6-8 forward, made a basket in the paint.
“That was our fault,” Billy Baron said of the Orange rampage. “We had some breakdowns. I think it was more us than them for sure. We had a sense we could win this game in the first half but we broke down in the second half and that’s something we got to get better at.”
The open looks Canisius found in the first half disappeared. The Orange had begun to play like one of the nation’s top-ranked teams and when Triche made a three with 14:40 to go, the crowd, if not Boeheim, began to relax with the score having blown up to 50-35.
Twice during the game’s opening 10 minutes Syracuse appeared poised to run off and hide. An eight-point surge capped by a Carter-Williams three had the Orange on top, 23-14, and Canisius beginning to look outclassed.
The Griffs just wouldn’t go away. Baron nailed a three with 9:03 left to breathe life into the Canisius offense. Harold Washington scored a fast-break layup off an assist by Reggie Groves. A renewed confidence began to take hold and Canisius would go on to inch ahead before the Orange countered later for a 35-32 halftime lead.
Like Syracuse, Canisius had a 9-0 run in its pocket and it was good for its first lead since Baron’s opening basket made it 2-0. The Griffs trailed, 30-23, until Isaac Sosa made a three, Jordan Heath struck from behind the arc and his brother Josiah capitalized for a conventional three-point play. The dome crowd of 18,120 grew silent and frustrated in response to a 32-30 Canisius advantage with 2:24 remaining.
Three Carter-Williams free throws over the next 1:20 pushed Syracuse back on top. The lead held when Baron missed the front of a one-and-one with 22 seconds left and expanded to 35-32 on a Triche basket at the buzzer off a broken play out top.
“I thought if we hit a couple more shots we would have been right in there,” Jim Baron said.
“We told our guys were we coming in to win this game. It wasn’t just a tourist visiting. ... But they’re good. They’re very good, I think as good as anybody in the country. They got experience. They got size. They got inside-outside. And Carter-Williams ... he makes everybody better.”