NEW YORK -- St. John’s faced a Top 10 opponent for the second straight weekend on Saturday.
This time, it didn’t go nearly as well.
Seven days after their furious second-half run made No. 6 Duke sweat at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Red Storm were overpowered in the second half against No. 2 Syracuse, losing 95-70 in front of a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden -- many of them cheering for the Orange.
“I thought they looked young,” said St. John’s interim head coach Mike Dunlap of his team. “I think that 70 points is not a bad effort, but I think we got exposed on the defensive side of things.”
After St. John’s took an early 7-2 lead, Syracuse wrested control of the game with a 10-0 run, and never gave it back. The Red Storm hung around for most of the first half, but the Orange scored the final six points to make it 41-27 at intermission.
The second half was no contest. Syracuse scored nine straight points to make it 50-27, and the lead never dipped below 20 again.
“I thought we did a better job on the boards [today] than we had been,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who tied Dean Smith for third place on the all-time Division I wins list with 879. “I thought our defense was good early, especially in the first half. ... It’s a good win.”
Give St. John’s some credit -- they never stopped attacking against Syracuse’s imposing front line, even after the margin ballooned in the second half. Shooting guard D’Angelo Harrison scored 23 points, making 5 of 9 from beyond the arc. Forward Moe Harkless, playing with a bruised quad, added 15 points and eight rebounds. And point guard Phil Greene chipped in 14 points -- his fifth time in double figures in the past six games.
“I think we stepped up and we showed them that we weren’t scared of them,” said Harrison. “We fight. We don’t really worry about the score when we’re down, we just try to fight and play basketball. That’s why we’re here.”
But Syracuse (23-1, 10-1 Big East) was just too big, and too deep. Seven-foot center Fab Melo, who missed the past three games, returned and had a career-high 14 points. The Orange outrebounded the Red Storm 42-31, outscored them 24-11 on second-chance points, and outscored them 52-20 in the paint.
In terms of depth, Boeheim had 10 players at his disposal, while Dunlap had seven -- six if you discount Malik Stith’s six scoreless minutes. Five Syracuse players finished in double figures, and three of them came off the bench (Dion Waiters, C.J. Fair and Michael Carter-Williams).
Syracuse’s reserves outscored St. John’s 53-23 -- and that 23 came from Harrison, who normally starts but was late for the team bus and sat for the first 2:19 of the game.
“We’ll see Syracuse again down the road, and Syracuse exposed us, but long-term they helped us by showing us our weaknesses,” Dunlap said. “When we go back to work on Monday, we know what side of the ball to work on, and that’s on the defensive side.”
St. John’s falls to 10-13 overall, 4-7 in the Big East, and a glaring 0-9 against Top 25 opponents this season. But Boeheim, who knows a thing or two about basketball, gave St. John’s fans a reason to smile after the game.
“[Harrison’s] a tremendous shooter. Harkless is a tremendous player,” Boeheim said. “I don’t know how you can do what they’ve done with five freshmen, I think it’s extraordinary."
Yes, they’ve posted a few impressive wins -- and suffered several lopsided losses, like this one.
The roller coaster ride continues against Cincinnati, back at the Garden, on Wednesday night.