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SU offense rises and shines

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NEW YORK — Finally, a game in which the inconsistent Syracuse offense equally supported the consistent Orange defense.

Playing what SU coach Jim Boeheim termed “probably our best all-around offensive game of the season,” the No. 5 seeded Orange pulled away in the second half for a 75-63 Big East Conference Tournament second-round win over No. 12 Seton Hall on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

The Orange (24-8), advanced to a quarterfinal date at around 2:30 p.m. today against No. 4 Pittsburgh. The Panthers handed SU a 65-55 loss at Pittsburgh on Feb. 5.

Seniors James Southerland and Brandon Triche, both suffering through recent shooting slumps, produced 20 and 17 points, respectively, for the Orange, which shot 56.3 percent from the floor, second best of the entire season.

Southerland made five 3-pointers the first half alone (six overall) to help SU overcome an early 10-point deficit as the Pirates (15-18) shot lights out early on.

Triche then responded the second half, scoring 11 points. Junior C. J. Fair also came to life, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the final 20 minutes as SU recorded its 48th Big East tournament victory.

“Our ball movement was great, and we showed great patience,” said SU point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who tied the tournament record with 14 assists to just one turnover. “The last few games we’ve been kind of rushing things. Today we were so patient and made the extra pass to get a better shot.”

After forging a 34-34 halftime deadlock, which SU coach Jim Boeheim said “felt more like a lead,” the Orange slowly began executing with precision and pulled away in the second half.

After Seton Hall tied the lead for good at 46-46 on a pair of free throws by Aaron Cosby (22 points), SU kicked the offense into high gear, producing an eventual 19-2 run.

A Fair foul-line jumper, followed by a Southerland 3-pointer and a 10-footer from Fair built the lead to 61-48 with 11 minutes remaining.

Triche then scored seven unanswered points, burying a 3-pointer from the top of the key, followed by a 10-foot fade-away jumper and a 15 footer on the baseline that increased the lead to 61-48.

SU then grew the lead to as much as 17 points (65-48) with five minutes to go.

“It seemed like forever since I made a three,’’ said Triche, who actually made his first shot of the game from behind the arc. “On that last shot, I finally felt in good rhythm. Our offense was running so smoothly the second half, we all got good looks and knocked them down.”

Boeheim indicated that because Seton Hall played so well, “it meant we had to really execute on both ends. They were a team we didn’t want to play because they pass it so well, they use up a lot of clock and have four legitimate shooters.”

The Pirates, who beat South Florida in overtime on Tuesday, made six 3-pointers in the opening 10 minutes to forge a 24-14 lead. When the Orange finally shut down the perimeter game, it mounted a comeback.

Southerland made his fourth and fifth threes of the first half to help cut the deficit to 32-28 with 1:47 left in the first half.

Reserve center Baye Moussa Keita then reeled off three straight points as SU went to the locker room somehow tied.

“James kept us in the game the first half when we weren’t playing that well,” Boeheim said. “Then Brandon and C. J. really got going. I thought Michael had by far his best floor game of the season.”

“Coach stressed playing smarter and spreading the floor even better the second half,” Southerland said. “I tried to stay focused and I was shooting in the flow of the offense. When we spread the floor like that, we’re pretty tough to defend. I thought our defensive energy was also a lot better the second half as well.”

Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said his club, “kind of fell in love with the 3-pointer and didn’t look inside enough the second half. Then Syracuse really picked our zone apart. That’s the best I’ve seen them move the ball this season.”

As for playing a more physical Pittsburgh team today, SU believe it’s ready for a better performance than in the first meeting.

“We let them push us around that game,” Triche said. “We’ve got to be tougher and more aggressive this time. And we have to execute our offense like we did today.”

“This is something positive to build around,” Boeheim said. “We weren’t perfect today, but it was so much better than what has been happening. Hopefully, this will give the kids some confidence against a very good Pittsburgh team.”

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