When some Syracuse players looked at the out-of-town scoreboard and saw how their mighty conferences foes fell to weaker teams, they began to appreciate their 79-65 victory over St. Johns (6-5, 0-1 Big East) at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.
"We know how competitive the Big East is," said Gerry McNamara, who finished with 19 points. "It's important to get off on the right foot, to come in on the road, well, somewhat on the road, it's important to come out with a win. Anything can get you going in this league."
Technically, it was an away game for Syracuse (14-1, 1-0), but the Garden was dominated by Orange fans. Every single fan wearing Orange enjoyed the performance of Hakim Warrick, who led the Orange with 22 points.
Warrick led the charge in a 10-0 run that gave Syracuse control. With 5:07 left in the first half and the Orange trailing by one, Warrick flipped in a layup. He would add a 10-foot jumper and a free throw as Syracuse entered halftime with a 37-28 lead.
"That really turned the game around." Warrick said. "We were down pretty much all of the first half. That really helped us and hurt them."
Warrick was silenced for the majority of the first half, getting double-and tripled-teamed on every touch. The Orange turned the ball over 10 times in the first half (Warrick had three) and the Red Storm was also able to capitalize on the offensive glass, grabbing eight as opposed to Syracuse's four.
But Warrick and the Orange remained patient in their patented 2-3 zone and were able to force 10 turnovers of their own.
"When we started playing defense," McNamara said, "that's when we made our run."
Whereas Warrick was Syracuse's spark for its first half run, McNamara provided the power for the second half. With the Orange holding an eight-point lead with 10:49 left, McNamara took a pass from Josh Pace (12 points, six rebounds) and drained a three. McNamara would bookend Syracuse's 10-0 run with another three, giving it a 63-45 lead with 8:19 left, shattering St. John's bid for an upset.
It was a triumphant return to the Garden, where the Orange was downed by Oklahoma State earlier in the season.
"(The Garden is) not bad – if I get a 30 point game, I might like it more," McNamara said. "As long as we win, I'm happy."
Another good sign for Syracuse was the play of Louis McCroskey. The forward wrestled the starting job away from fellow sophomore Demetris Nichols earlier in the year and his play has steadily improved.
Much has been written about Syracuse searching for a second outside shooter since the departure of guard Kueth Duany two years ago. McCroskey showed glimpses of Duany's ability, tallying 11 points on 2-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc. He also added two steals, showing excellent perimeter defense.
"As the game went on he did a better job of finding his spot in the offense," McNamara said. "He could be 0-of-10 and I'm still going to have confidence in him to hit that shot."
All of those factors helped Syracuse avoid a fate similar to Connecticut and Pittsburgh.
"There's no easy games in this conference," McCroskey said. "You saw the box score of a couple of games around the Big East today. It's just another level."
On a night of upsets, Syracuse prevails
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