Two old rivals, one new conference, same old result.
In a surreal December meeting between St. John's and Syracuse that was predicated by the Orange's departure from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Syracuse proved the change on the schedule had no effect on their dominance of their neighbors to the south, as the second-ranked Orange withstood a late St. John's rally to defeat the Red Storm by the final of 68-63 at Madison Square Garden, upping their record to 10-0 on the season with their ninth consecutive victory over the Red Storm, and fifteenth in the last sixteen contests between the two schools.
D'Angelo Harrison struggles to break Syracuse's world famous 2-3 zone defense. (Photo courtesy of Jason Schott)
"We've got a chance to be a good team," head coach Jim Boeheim said after the game, but admitted his squad still needs to work out their kinks.
"I think we can be a great team, but we're rated so high because everyone else has lost," Boeheim said. "We were down four late to St. Francis (College). They were the only team that really should have beaten us this year."
Madison Square Garden scene before Syracuse closed game on 10-3 run en route to 68-63 win. (Photo courtesy of Jason Schott)
After St. John's overcame a 14-point deficit to finally emerge with the lead midway through the second half, it seemed as if the Garden magic that was so instrumental in the Red Storm's 2011 NCAA Tournament run would rehash itself before a crowd of 16,357, a gathering that was largely vocal in favor of the home crowd for most of the afternoon before Syracuse closed the game with a 10-3 run over the final 5:48, prompting the all-familiar chant of "Let's Go Orange" to rain down on the "World's Most Famous Arena."
Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis scored 21 points in his Madison Square Garden debut, and also added six assists on a day in which his head coach praised the Canadian floor general with a level not normally seen from the second-winningest head coach in the nation.
"As a freshman point guard, he's playing better than anybody I've ever had," Boeheim said of Ennis. "If he was playing like a normal freshman, we'd probably be 7-3 right now."
C.J. Fair also added 21 points of his own for the Orange, including a long jumper from the right corner with 1:38 to play that essentially served as the dagger for Syracuse, who retained bragging rights as "New York's College Team" thanks to their senior wing, who may just be the most underrated player in the nation.
"He gets overlooked no matter what he does," Boeheim said of Fair. "Even though he wasn't the first option, he's always been a guy that has made big plays for us."
D'Angelo Harrison led St. John's with 21 points, including the basket with 8:26 remaining that gave St. John's a 55-54 lead, the first of the contest for the Red Storm, while freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan chipped in with 13 points and six rebounds.
Syracuse returns home to face High Point on Friday, starting a four-game homestand that carries into January and the start of ACC play, while St. John's heads back to Queens to welcome San Francisco into Carnesecca Arena Wednesday night. However, the day belonged to Syracuse once again, as the Orange made their return to the venue that has long been described as a second home court into a successful one.
"Usually this time of year, there's not that much attention given to our game," Boeheim said, "but I think there is this year because of all the great games. I thought both groups of fans were into it, I thought it was a great game. That's why we signed up for it."