Chants of "Let's Go Orange" drowned out some early boo-birds, and when it was done Rutgers was saddled with another double digit defeat, this time an 81-65 setback Wednesday in front of 8,085 at a soldout Rutgers Athletic Center.
"We're going through a really tough time right now,'' Rutgers junior forward Jonathan Mitchell said. "We've got to keep working to get better. It's got to turn sooner or later. That's how we have to see it. We can't just give into it. We've got to keep fighting.''
Not even changing two-fifths of the starting lineup could alters Rutgers' slide as coach Fred Hill's team fell to 9-7, including 0-4 in the Big East. During pregame introductions, boos were directed at the fourth-year coach.
But Hill, for a second straight day, handled the periphery stuff well and remained upbeat and optimistic.
"I'm the luckiest guy in the world,'' Hill said. "I have a great job. This is my dream job. I came with a vision and a plan, and I'm staying with the vision and the plan. We're going to succeed. It may not happen as quickly as people would like, but there's no doubt in my mind.''
Early on, it looked dismal.
Rutgers had difficulty finding holes in Syracuse's zone, and resorted to long-range shooting. In a dismal first half when leading scorer Mike Rosario was 1 for 9, including 1 of 6 from 3-point range, the Scarlet Knights trailed big. They went into the locker room down 41-23.
"I was put in tough situations where I tried to get my shot off fast, and they were rotating quick to the wings and trying to stop me from shooting the ball,'' Rosario said. "I thought their wings did a great job of getting out and hedging, and making sure I had to rush my shot, or take a shot that I don't want to take.''
But with better ball movement and spacing, and Rosario finding his long-lost shooting touch and freshman wing Dane Miller playing a supporting role, the Scarlet Knights cut a 48-25 deficit early in the second half to 53-45 with 12:30 remaining.
Miller, who made his first career start, scored on a goaltending call to bring enthusiasm to the RAC, and concern to the Orange.
"(Rosario) hit a couple of shots for us and it opened up their zone more,'' Mitchell said. "We were able to move the ball better, and we got better shots. Their forwards push out almost to the top of the key. It's a unique zone, and it took us a little too long to figure it out.''
But Syracuse (16-1, 3-1) responded quickly to the challenge and re-established the double-digit lead as Andy Rautins hit a jumper and had two free throws and Scoop Jardine scored four points.
Another Rutgers run trimmed Syracuse's lead to 67-58, but the Orange used a 9-2 run, capped by Mookie Jones' 3-pointer, to seal the win.
Rutgers was led in scoring by Rosario's 17 points. Miller added 15 points, but also turned the ball over eight times, and Mike Coburn had 10 points.
Rautins paced Syracuse with 23 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and five steals. For a while he was entertaining an unfathomable quadruple double. He had 11 points, six rebounds, five steals and five assists in the first half.
"I just felt like got out to a slow start," Rosario said. "I'm like the energy, the guy that really gets everyone going in a game. I feel like I didn't bring a lot of energy today. I feel like I didn't help my team in the first half in doing the right plays and getting everybody involved.''
JUCO transfer James Beatty replaced Coburn as the starting point guard and was effective in scoring nine points, and Miller got the nod at wing instead of Patrick Jackson. And while Miller scored seven of Rutgers' first 10 points, he also turned the ball over five times in 17 first-half minutes.
Rosario, who entered the game in a 9 of 44 shooting slump, missed his first eight shots from the field before a 3-pointer with 59.6 seconds left in the first half cut Syracuse's lead to 39-23. He finished 6 of 19 from the floor, and is shooting 23.8 percent (15 of 63) in conference play.
Beatty opened the game with 3-pointer, but Rutgers quickly found itself down 8-3. Another 3-pointer by Beatty cut Syracuse's lead to 17-13 with 12 left in the first half before the Orange pulled away thanks to poor shooting and careless turnovers by the Scarlet Knights.
Jones' 3-pointer gave Syracuse a 32-18 lead with 3:59 remaining the half, and the Orange extended its lead to 39-20 as Rutgers missed 17 of its first 23 shots.
"It's like Groundhog's Day,'' Hill said. "We put ourselves in a hole with 13 turnovers in the first half, and that led to 20 points. You can't give away 20 points and try to claw back against the No. 5 team in the country …that's a tough task, but our guys did it.''