MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- No double-digit lead is safe in the Big East, even in the final minute.
Freshman Brandon Triche scored 16 points and
No. 5 Syracuse nearly blew a 10-point lead before outlasting West Virginia (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today,
No. 10 AP) on Saturday 72-71.
Syracuse (17-1, 4-1 Big East) isn't accustomed to close games. The Orange are fourth in the nation in scoring margin at 21 points per game and their only other close win was seven points at Seton Hall in their Big East opener.
"I don't care how much we win by," Triche said. "I don't care if it's one point -- just get the win."
Despite the late near meltdown, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was more content this time after criticizing his big players following Wednesday's blowout win at Rutgers for allowing opposing guards to make layups. West Virginia didn't get many opportunities to do that.
When West Virginia stormed back after Wes Johnson's free throw put the Orange ahead 65-55 with 1:18 left, Boeheim felt his players kept their composure.
"At the end, West Virginia just kept making plays and pushing further and further, so we are very fortunate that we didn't turn it over, and I think that's what made the difference," Boeheim said. "We were tougher today. We had toughness when we needed it.
"I think it was a big step for us."
Although it matched its lowest point total of the season, Syracuse shot 58 percent from the field (26 of 45). Kris Joseph and Wes Johnson added 13 points apiece for the Orange, while Andy Rautins had 12.
Darryl Bryant led West Virginia (13-3, 4-2) with 18 points, hitting two 3-pointers in the final 33 seconds, including one with 3 seconds left for the final margin.
"We just can't keep getting down," Bryant said. "We've been down a lot and that's been bad for us. We can't keep playing catch up, especially not against a top five team like that. We've got to come out and play for 40 minutes and we haven't been playing for 40 minutes."
Joseph missed two free throws with 2.5 seconds left. West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler got the rebound but couldn't get off a quality shot as time ran out.
Syracuse beat West Virginia for the 11th time in the last 12 meetings. It was the first matchup between top 10 teams in Morgantown since 1960, when the third-ranked Mountaineers beat No. 9 Villanova in Jerry West's senior year.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins wasn't pleased that his two top players, Butler and Devin Ebanks, went a combined 9 of 25 from the field in an important game.
"Those are supposed to be our studs and in all honesty a lot of those [baskets] were at the end of the game," Huggins said.
West Virginia was outscored from the line for the fifth straight game and was held to 39 percent shooting (24 of 61) overall. The Mountaineers haven't shot 50 percent or better from the field over its last five games.
"Good teams, when they have an open shot, they make them most of the time," Huggins said. "We haven't made them in a while and we've got to start making some shots."
Syracuse went ahead to stay, 43-32, with 12 minutes left on a rebound basket by Arinze Onuaku, and the Orange used runs of 9-0 and 7-0 to keep West Virginia at bay.
Triche hit consecutive baskets to put the Orange ahead 61-51 with 2:44 left. But Syracuse didn't score another basket after Joseph's layup and free throw put the Orange ahead 64-55 with 1:48 remaining.
West Virginia outscored Syracuse 16-7 over the final 1:18. Bryant and Butler hit consecutive 3-pointers and Bryant made two free throws to cut the deficit to 71-65 with 7 seconds left.
"You've got to give them credit for hitting those shots -- and give us credit for grinding out the win," Rautins said.
Syracuse escaped by going 4 of 8 from the free-throw line over the final 23 seconds.
The Mountaineers started slowly for the third time in four games. They trailed Notre Dame 25-4 last week and missed 15 of their first 19 shots against Syracuse, which led 26-25 at halftime. West Virginia's only way to penetrate the 2/3 zone was taking an outside shot and hoping to get the rebound.
Syracuse committed four first-half offensive fouls and 13 turnovers, many in the game's opening minutes. The Orange finished with 20 turnovers, five by Triche.
"One of the troubles I've been having is with pressure, turning the ball over a little bit," Triche said. "I think I dealt with the pressure well at the end of the game."
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