Coming in off a poor shooting night in the opening round of the Big East Conference Tournament, the Seton Hall Pirates (15-18, 3-15) proved to be anything but a pushover for the Syracuse Orange (24-8, 11-7) to start the match.
The Pirates came out firing, making six of their first eight three-point attempts, taking a 10-point lead on the Orange with 10:13 to go in the first half.
"We weren't active in the beginning," said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. "We left guys open, [Brian] Oliver and [Kyle] Smyth, and they had nine and six, I think, in the first five, six minutes. And they had two the rest of the game. We got better defensively."
But with Seton Hall missing their next four three-point tries, gaining none after their first six for the first half, Syracuse began to heat up themselves. The Orange went 6-for-8 from long range to aid tremendously in closing the gap.
Senior forward James Southerland accounted for five of those six made attempts from distance for Syracuse. He went 5-for-7 from beyond the arc, 6-for-9 overall, attaining 17 points in the first half.
Then the Orange brought their play close to the rim with sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams finding fellow guard, senior Brandon Triche, penetrating. Triche would take the pass from Carter-Williams and head to the rim, making his lay-in and the free throw that ensued. He would then return the favor by finding junior center Baye Keita, who would make his own layup.
Keita went 1-for-3 on Syracuse's final three attempts from the charity stripe in the opening half, but it was enough to tie the game going into the break, 34-34.
After not leading for the entire 20 minutes of the first half, the Orange wasted little time gaining the advantage in the second half, 14 seconds to be exact, when sophomore forward Rakeem Christmas dunked home Carter-Williams' assist.
Despite Seton Hall bringing the match to a tie on three separate occasions in less than a four-minute span, Syracuse would never give up the lead, returning the favor from the first half, a favor Seton Hall did not ask for.
The threes continued to rain down by both sides in the latter half, with each side making half of their attempts, the Orange going 3-for-6 and the Pirates 4-for-8.
Syracuse's opportunities from the outside as well as play close to the rim was made possible by moving the ball around and find good opportunities, as simple as that sounds.
The Orange had 21 assists, with two-thirds of them coming from Carter-Williams, who had 14. Seton Hall as a team had 18. Carter-Williams' 14 helpers ties the best single-game performance in a Big East Tournament game. He is now among St. John's Red Storm alum Mark Jackson who attained 14 versus the Villanova Wildcats on March 7, 1986, fellow Syracuse alum Dwayne "Pearl" Washington who achieved 14 against St. John's on March 8, 1986, and Pittsburgh Panthers' alum Brandin Knight whose 14 came in a match with the Miami Hurricanes back on March 8, 2002.
"Our offensive movement was the best it's been probably all year," Boeheim stated. "We really moved the ball. Mike [Carter-Williams] played, I think, his best game of the year. James [Southerland] kept us in it when we weren't playing well. And then Brandon [Triche] and C.J. [Fair] got going the second half."
Though he only added three points in the second half, Southerland would end the game as Syracuse's leader with 20, second overall only to Seton Hall sophomore guard Aaron Cosby, who ended with 22.
Both teams had three players finish in double-figures. Triche and junior forward C.J. Fair joined Southerland, with 17 and 16, respectively. Junior center Eugene Teague and junior guard/forward Fuquan Edwin joined Cosby, with 13 and 11, respectively. Edwin's 11 was almost seven points below his season average of 16.6. Assisting in keeping his total low was the Orange offense, who helped Edwin to three fouls in less than two minutes as well as his fifth and final foul with 1:37 to go in the game.
"For us to be effective, Mike [Carter-Williams] has to make plays, and Brandon [Triche] and C.J. [Fair] and James [Southerland] have to score," Boeheim remarked. "That's what happened in this game."
Triche came into the game 0-for-10 from three-point range in Syracuse's last four games. His last made three came back on February 23rd in the team's first match of the season with the Georgetown Hoyas.
"I haven't made a three-pointer in like a month," said Triche. "So I figured I'd celebrate a little bit. I'm showing a little bit more emotion this year than any other year."
"Just trying to do whatever I can to help the team," Triche added. "Just being confident out there and trying to make plays."
The win gives Boeheim 48 Big East Tournament victories, and an overall tournament record of 48-28.
With the loss, the Pirates are out of contention for an NCAA Tournament berth, ending the season below .500 and failing to defeat a team ranked in the nation's top 25 at the time of play, going 0-9.
Syracuse, already with a place in the NCAA Tournament, is working to improve their seeding as they move onto the quarterfinal round of the Big East Tournament for another 2pm ET match-up, this time against the 4th-seeded Panthers of Pittsburgh.
Southerland offered a look at the match ahead between Syracuse and Pittsburgh. "I'm capable of spreading out the floor," said Southerland. "I know Pitt plays a physical game. We're going to go out and be physical and move the ball around. We'll be tough to guard."
Boeheim jokingly added, "No scouting reports, James," as the team now sets their focus on the Panthers and an opportunity to reach the final four in their final Big East Tournament.