PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Fourth-ranked Syracuse earned a double-bye into the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament and remained on track for an even bigger prize: A No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.
"We're just glad we're not on the bubble for the eighth year in a row," coach Jim Boeheim said Tuesday night after the Orange recovered from an eight-point deficit to beat feisty Providence 99-85. "I think we can still get better as we go through these last two weeks of the regular season."
Rick Jackson scored 17 of his career-high 28 points in the second half and Andy Rautins also scored 28, making all five 3-point attempts in the second half and 8 of 12 in all. Jackson added nine rebounds and Arinze Onuaku had 12 points and nine boards for the Orange (26-2, 13-2), who won't have to play the first two days of the conference tournament.
The only question now is whether the Orange, who have been seeded fourth as recently as 2004, can hold onto their lead in the Big East, win the conference tournament and earn a No. 1 seed. Seventh-ranked Villanova visits the Carrier Dome on Saturday; a Syracuse victory combined with any Pittsburgh loss would give the Orange at least a share of the regular-season title.
"I think we did a good job playing Providence, but I think we've got to play better [against] Nova," Jackson said. "I think guys are just looking forward to playing Nova, but we realized that we had to come in here and handle business. We're going to go in there pumped on Saturday, and it's just going to be an outright fight."
The Friars (12-15, 4-11) took a 55-47 lead when Jamine Peterson hit a 3-pointer to open the second half. But Syracuse scored the next 14 points and, after Marshon Brooks made a basket for Providence to cut the deficit to four points, the Orange scored the next 12.
Brooks and Peterson both scored 23 for Providence, which has lost seven straight since beating then-No. 19 Connecticut on Jan. 27. Five of the seven have been against teams that have been ranked among the top 8 this season.
"I've been really proud of our team's effort during this unbelievable stretch of games," Friars coach Keno Davis said. "They exposed some weaknesses on our team, like I knew they would be able to. We had to have a shooting night where we were knocking them down, and we did -- for a half."
Syracuse lost at home to Louisville on Feb. 14, and recovered by winning at then-No. 10 Georgetown on Thursday. Tuesday night's victory, coupled with Louisville's 70-60 loss to the Hoyas, gave the Orange the double-bye.
"We never think about that," Boeheim said. "College basketball is just this really crazy game. Providence has lost [six] games in a row, and they could have beaten us tonight. They did beat Connecticut."
Syracuse led by 13 points after just 6 minutes and it was 34-25 when Providence scored 13 of the next 14 points to take the lead. Rautins and McKenzie traded 3-pointers, and after a dunk by Kris Joseph, the Friars scored six straight points to take a 47-40 lead with 3:41 left in the half.
They went up eight points before Rautins hit a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to cut the deficit to 52-47 at halftime.
Providence shot 59 percent in the first half, including 10-of-19 from 3-point range. It was just the second time this season Syracuse had trailed at the half, and its biggest halftime deficit of the season.
But after Peterson's basket, it was all Syracuse.
Jackson scored on a putback to give the Orange the lead for good, 57-55 with 15:11 left. Then Brandon Triche followed his steal with a fast-break layup and Wesley Johnson did the same on the next possession to give Syracuse a 61-55 lead, complete the 14-0 run and force Providence to use a timeout.
Brooks made a basket after the break, but before the Friars would score again Syracuse led 73-57.
Rautins, who set his season high with 26 points in the 75-71 win over Georgetown, missed his career high by one point.
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