Full-court press effective as Syracuse wins

Tuesday's loss versus Oklahoma State convinced many the Orange may not have been worthy of the postseason hype; that they were not among the nation's elite.

Syracuse fans are hoping Saturday night's performance is a sign the best is yet to come. The Orange (8-1) looked sharp in their first game since losing to the Cowboys 64-50, and led by some unfamiliar faces defeated SUNY Binghamton (2-5) 86-56 in their first of six straight home games. The Orange are 4-0 all-time in this I-81 battle.

"Overall, we gave a good effort," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "We saw some good signs. We only turned the ball over five times in the second half, and our press bothered them. Louie (McCroskey) held his composure really was patient, and made some good things happen."

Inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in his young career, McCroskey took full advantage. In a season-high 28 minutes of play, the sophomore went 4-of-8 from the floor, scoring a career-high 11. He hit two 3-pointers, and grabbed 4 rebounds in place of Demetris Nichols.

While McCroskey shined in his first start, fellow sophomore Darryl Watkins made quite an impression in his longest outing of the season. Entering the game for Craig Forth just 1:34 into the contest, Watkins was an instant force down low. He played the rest of the half, blocking six shot and scoring six. In 29 minutes, he scored eight points and had eight rebounds, four coming on the offensive boards.

Watkins' offensive rebound and put back with 8:13 to play in the first stretched the Orange lead to 26-15 and brought the crowd to its feet. On the next play he came up with a block that started a fast break that Billy Edelin finished with a lay-up.

Watkins and the orange defense held the Bearcats to under 32 percent shooting for the game. Binghamton settled for shots from the 3-point line because of a strong Syracuse zone, but shot just 22 percent, connecting on 7-of-32 attempts.

The Syracuse full-court press, which was picked apart during the final 6:32 Tuesday when the Cowboys went on a 17-4 run to seal the victory, was too much for the Bearcats to handle. The Orange came up with 22 points off 18 Bearcat turnovers. At one point midway through the second half Syracuse came up with three consecutive steals, stretching the lead to 60-36 on a McCroskey lay-up.

Watkins was given the bulk of the playing time down low because of the absence of sophomore standout Terrence Roberts. Roberts, who suffered an injury to his right thumb in Friday's practice, was having trouble catching the ball, Boeheim said.

"Coach said he needed me for the end of the season, so I figured I would save myself," said Roberts, who averaged over nine points a game in the last three games. "I would've played, though, because I want to win."

Forth, who has started all 110 games in his career, played just eight minutes. He did, however, show flashes in the second half, scoring six points in six minutes, four coming in a one-minute span starting at 16:55. He made a strong catch on a fast break and finished with a lay-in to give the Orange their biggest lead of the game at 84-53 with 2:27 to play.

It was a good sign for Forth, who was in the midst of a three game stretch in which he scored zero points. In 52 minutes against Oklahoma State, Colgate, and St. Bonaventure, Forth was 0-of-8 from the floor.

"I know I'm capable of finishing down low, and these kinds of stretches happen," Forth said. "I think this game was a stepping stone for me and the team."

Hakim Warrick led all scorers with 20 points. Showcasing a strong, reliable mid-range jumper, Warrick was 7-of-11. Gerry McNamara finished with 18, hitting four 3-pointers.

Andre Heard led the Bearcats with 17 points, while fellow guard Troy Hailey added 16. Binghamton opens America East Conference play next Sunday at Vermont.

Billy Edelin provided yet another bright spot for the Orange, scoring 10 points in just 11 minutes. Edelin, who was 4-of-5 from the floor, scored eight of his 10 in the second half.

"Billy getting back is something that's gonna take a lot of time," Boeheim said. "It's not the same situation as his freshman year when he was one of the only guards we had. We have guys playing well. It's gonna be a lot tougher for him to walk out here now."

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