SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—Jim Boeheim breathed a big sigh of relief. After two big victories last week at Madison Square Garden had vaulted Syracuse into the national rankings, he was happy his Orange had no letdown against Cornell.
Freshman guard Brandon Triche scored a season-high 21 points, Andy Rautins added 18 and No. 10 Syracuse beat the two-time defending Ivy League champion Big Red 88-73 on Tuesday night.
“This was a tough game to come back from New York and play this team,” Boeheim said after his 804th career victory tied him with Eddie Sutton for seventh all-time in Division I. “They’re going to be in the NCAA tournament.”
It was the 32nd straight win in the series for Syracuse (5-0), but the Orange didn’t settle it until Triche keyed a 17-5 spurt to start the second half. He hit a 3 and converted a three-point play, Rautins hit one of his five 3s, and Rick Jackson added another three-point play to boost the Syracuse lead from six points at halftime to 59-41 with 13:27 left.
“I hit a few shots in a row, so I figured I was in a great rhythm,” said Triche, whose baseline drive and reverse layup put the Orange up 53-41. “We knew coming into this game there wasn’t going to be as many fans, it wouldn’t be as packed with everyone going home for Thanksgiving.”
Unranked a week ago (Syracuse was 30th in the balloting), the Orange catapulted into the Top 25 after beating then-No. 13 California and then-No. 6 North Carolina by an average score of 91-72 in the 2K Sports Classic. They had a more difficult time early with the Big Red (2-2), who beat Alabama and Massachusetts on the road before losing at home Friday night to Seton Hall.
Chris Wroblewski led Cornell with 20 points, Ryan Wittman had 19, and Jeff Foote 12.
Wes Johnson had 15 points and 10 rebounds and Kris Joseph added 13 points for Syracuse, which won easily despite a subpar game from big men Arinze Onuaku and Jackson. They each scored seven points, but Onuaku only had one rebound in 19 minutes.
Wittman had a career-high 33 points against Syracuse a year ago, including nine 3s, but he had trouble finding any open looks against the Orange’s aggressive zone and finished 3 of 10 from long range.
“Their defense is better this year,” Wittman said. “They’ve got a lot of length. They can make it difficult. I might have rushed my first couple of shots, but after that we got some looks. We just didn’t knock them down.”
Syracuse held its first four opponents to 24.1 percent shooting on 3s, but Cornell hit 9 of 19 in the first half, with Wroblewski hitting 5 of 6. He finished with a career-high six 3s, but only one came after the break as the Big Red shot just 22.2 percent (4 of 18) from beyond the arc in the second half and that sealed their fate.
“The defense paid more attention,” Wroblewski said. “They’re really long and athletic, and they did a great job of rushing my shot in the second half.”
A year ago, Cornell led by as many as 16 in the first half and held a five-point advantage at halftime before falling 88-78. And its patient attack and long-range accuracy kept the Big Red close in this one for a while.
Cornell trailed 42-36 at the half, but the Orange limited the Big Red to just a 3 by Wroblewski and a follow by Foote to open a 17-point lead in the opening 7 minutes of the second.
“When you go against zone so long, you can get lazy,” Cornell coach Steve Donahue said. “That’s part of the reason Syracuse is so good at it. Not many people do it. We executed as well as we can in the first half, got open looks, got the ball inside. The second half they start getting in a rhythm in what we were doing. They did a great job stepping in passing lanes. We had a chance to make open shots to weather the storm and we don’t.”
During the decisive spurt, Wroblewski missed two 3s and failed to convert a scoop in the lane as the shot clock expired, Louis Dale missed another 3, and the Big Red committed six of their 10 turnovers in the period.
“There were stretches during the game where we had multiple turnovers,” Wittman said. “Syracuse is such a great transition team you can’t do that and expect to stay in the game. Those turnovers lead to two points almost every time.”