Record Crowd Inspires Orange Onslaught

A National Invitation Tournament record 26,752 fans packed the Carrier Dome tonight as the Syracuse University men's basketball team dispatched of the visiting San Diego State Aztecs in an 80-64 blowout that wasn't as close as the final score would suggest.   With the victory, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim registered his 750 th victory as a head coach of the Orange.

The Aztecs won the tap and drew first blood on a pair of free throws, after drawing a foul on Syracuse center Darryl Watkins 26 seconds into the game. Looking to force the tempo in the game's early going, San Diego State scrapped their way to a 4-0 lead until Syracuse senior Terrance Roberts got the home team on the board with an offensive rebound dunk. After an empty possession by the Aztecs, an Andy Rautins jumper from straight away tied the game. Syracuse scored again moments later on a pull up jumper from senior forward Demetris Nichols that gave the Orange their first lead of the game.

The new NIT attendance record.

San Diego State reclaimed the lead after scoring the game's next 8 points, turning several Syracuse turnovers into easy scoring opportunities in transition.   More importantly, the Aztecs were able to draw a second foul on Watkins that sent the ‘Cuse big man to the bench.

Enter Paul Harris.   Behind highly inspired defense by the highly touted freshman, Syracuse countered with a 9-2 run that brought the Orange even [15-15] at the under-twelve minute timeout.   During the run, Rautins book ended a pair of three point shots, around a Nichols trifecta.   San Diego State scored the next three points to reclaim a short-lived 18-15 lead, but once again Harris made a positive contribution, cutting the lead to 1 on a beautiful give-and-go feed from senior forward Matt Gorman. After giving up a layup, Syracuse battled back to a 20-20 tie on another Rautins three pointer on the team's next possession.

Despite impressive offensive play by the home team, a familiar problem—unforced turnovers—enabled the Aztecs to keep the game close. At one point in the first half, the Orange had committed 6 turnovers compared to zero for San Diego State. Despite the miscues, inspired Orange defense led to several easy scoring opportunities.

SU's first major scoring onslaught came midway through the half, when they put together a 10-2 run. JR PG Josh Wright was at the center of the action, passing for an assist, making a three pointer off of a fast-break, and converting a two-on-one fast break layup. The latter plays were both assisted by Devendorf. Wright almost made another spectacular play when he intercepted a San Diego State pass and was seemingly off to the races for an uncontested layup, but his feet got tangled with the referee after the steal, and Wright was unable to prevent the ball from going out of bounds.

The Syracuse lead increased to double-digits on a Nichols free throw, but San Diego State stemmed the tide with a 5-0 run that cut the lead to 35-30 with under one minute to play in the first half. Nichols countered by drilling a three point shot from the right elbow, and after the Orange got a stop on the Aztecs' last possession, SU went into the locker room with a 38-33 lead. Behind torrid shooting, Nichols and Rautins were tied for the halftime scoring lead with 9 points apiece.

Andy Rautins regained his stroke with 5 made triples.

Roberts got Syracuse on the board quickly in the second half when he scored on a power move to the basket on the team's first possession. San Diego State promptly ran off the game's next 4 points, but when Roberts scored again on a powerful offensive rebound dunk, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy that lasted for the remainder of the game. Roberts forced a turnover on San Diego State's next possession, and the deadeye marksmanship of both Rautins / Nichols continued, as each player drilled shots that three point range, giving Syracuse a 48-37 lead.

Say hello to some Big East-style defense.

With the Syracuse zone baffling the Aztecs, the Orange forced misses on the next several San Diego State possessions. Unfortunately, several miscues [including a missed dunk by Nichols on a seemingly uncontested fast break] temporarily prevented the Orange from extending the lead. That is, until Rautins connected on his fifth three pointer of the game. After another Aztec miss, Devendorf completed a fast break opportunity with a gorgeous left handed layup that gave SU a commanding 55-40 lead. Unfortunately, the exuberant Devendorf also drew a technical foul from the officials for excessively celebrating the made shot. San Diego State star Brandon Heath, the team's leading scorer, went to the line to shoot two technical free throws, but just as the Orange defenders had stifled his offense throughout the game, Heath missed both shots.

After a sloppy possession that nearly resulted in multiple Orange turnovers, Devendorf found Watkins underneath for an uncontested dunk and the rout was on. After a San Diego State turnover on the next possession, Devendorf drained a pull up jumper from the right hash mark, capping an 11-0 run that gave the home team a 19 point lead [59-40].

The teams traded baskets for the next several possessions, giving the Aztecs one fleeting final gasp of hope—that is, until Harris threw down a dunk at the 9:34 mark that brought the house down. With pandemonium ensuing in the Carrier Dome, that emphatic dunk ended any chance of a San Diego State comeback.

The lead stretched to 20 points at the 7:09 mark on a Harris free throw. Coupled with the tumultuous exuberance of the record-setting Carrier Dome crowd, it would prove to be an insurmountable obstacle for San Diego State to overcome. Seniors Gorman and Nichols inspired the already jubilant crowd into even greater hysterics by each throwing down offensive rebound dunks late in the game, and the celebration continued when Boeheim inserted several walk-on players into the game.

Demetris Nichols throws down a putback dunk.

During a late timeout, Boeheim and players expressed their appreciation to the fans—who'd turned out in unprecedented numbers during the two NIT games in the Carrier Dome—by giving the crowd a standing ovation…a gesture that the crowd was all too willing to reciprocate after being treated to such an impressive performance by the Orange.

In the end, Boeheim was able to engineer curtain calls for each of his seniors, each of whom received standing ovations from the appreciate crowd. Syracuse won the game by a final score of 80-64, advancing to play the Clemson Tigers from the Atlantic Coast Conference on Wednesday night.

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