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College basketball: Syracuse’s guards produce again

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SYRACUSE — There were so many questions surrounding Syracuse’s starting guards at the beginning of the season.

Even veteran coach Jim Boeheim didn’t really know what he had in redshirt sophomore shooting guard Trevor Cooney or highly-touted freshman point guard Tyler Ennis.

But they continue to progress, and were the shining stars during Thursday night’s 69-52 victory over Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at the Carrier Dome. Cooney scored a game-high 21 points and Ennis provided 17 points, eight assists and four steals as No. 4 SU (8-0) pulled away in the second half.

Now, the talk has turned from questioning whether the guards were good enough to whether they are among the best tandems in the country.

“They have far exceeded even our highest expectations,” said Boeheim, who earned career victory No. 928. “Right now, they are playing as well together as any guards in the country.”

In last week’s Maui Invitational, where SU earned three wins to claim the title, Cooney and Ennis were very steady, combining for 100 points and 27 assists.

Tuesday, they scored 22 of the Orange’s 27 points during a 27-7 second-half run to break away from a slim 33-29 halftime lead.

“I think we’ve developed a great chemistry between us on and off the court, and now it’s carried over to the games,” said Cooney who continued his hot shooting from Hawaii by making 5 of 9 from 3-point range. “Tyler always has his eyes up, looking for the open man.He really makes my job easier.”

Ennis, who also grabbed seven rebounds and had just one turnover in 38 solid minutes, said, “It’s easy playing with Trevor because he works so hard to get into good shooting position. We’ve meshed well because we work at it in practice.”

Senior C. J. Fair scored 15 points for SU, which has won 46 straight nonconference home games. The Orange also captured the much anticipated rematch of last year’s NCAA Sweet 16 game, won by SU 61-50.

And as much as the guards provided the offensive spark, it was SU’s 2-3 zone defense that finally produced.

Indiana shot just 36.6 percent for the game (15-for-41), including just 4 of 14 on 3-pointers. The Hoosiers were held without a field goal during a 12-minute stretch of the second half when the Orange was pulling away.

“Our defense was not very good in Maui,” Boeheim said. “But tonight was probably the best we’ve played all year. We never let them get anything going, we took away their passing lanes and were as active on the back line as we’ve been in awhile.”

SU got off to a sizzling start, racing to a 10-0 lead as Cooney hit a pair of 3-pointers in the opening 4 minutes.

Indiana (6-2), which made just three of its first 15 shots, went without a field goal until the 14:47 mark when Troy Williams scored for the Hoosiers.

Yogi Ferrell canned back-to-back threes to cap off a 13-3 Indiana run, and the Hoosiers seized their first lead at 27-26. But SU scored the last five points of the half to claim a 5-point lead.

“I was worried that maybe we couldn’t keep our legs to start the second half because that’s difficult coming off three straight games,” Boeheim said. “But our energy level beginning the second half was terrific. We took a close game and made it ours.”

After Indiana scored the first four points of the second half to tie it at 33-all, Cooney began what turned into a 17-1 run with a 3-pointer from the corner. SU extended the lead to 58-40 with its leading scorer on the bench as Cooney and Ennis combined for 14 more points.

“The key was matching our energy to start the game,’’ said Fair. “Trevor and Tyler made so many good plays, on both ends, to make sure we didn’t just sit on the lead.’’

■ New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixiera was among the Dome crowd of 26,414.

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