By the time Fordham began to penetrate Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone, it was too late.
After trailing by as many as 27 points, Fordham rallied behind Branden Frazier, who had a career-high 33 points, but the comeback effort wasn’t enough as No. 9 Syracuse won 89-74 on Tuesday night in a foul-plagued game.
“I think as a team we played a better second half,” Fordham coach Tom Pecora said. “We got a little more comfortable attacking the zone, but on the same note teams don’t play quite as hard when they’re up 25 points all the time. You take that with a grain of salt.”
The Orange defense rotated too swiftly for the Rams to effectively move the ball in the first half as Fordham freshman guard Jon Severe was held to just two points.
“We went over it (the zone) a lot of times (in practice), but hadn’t actually seen it,” said Severe, who hit 7 of 10 from long range and scored 28 points in an 87-67 victory over St. Francis, Pa. on Friday night to open the season. “It was big. I was trying to make passes and kept turning the ball over.”
Fordham, which trailed 46-21 at the break, pulled within 12 in the final minutes. Consecutive 3-pointers by Mandell Thomas and Severe and two free throws by Thomas narrowed the Orange lead to 76-60 with 5:44 left, the closest the Rams had been since Jerami Grant hit a jumper from the top of the key to give Syracuse a 25-8 lead.
And Fordham wasn’t quite through. Frazier hit a jumper in the lane and Ryan Roomes added another and two free throws to cut the lead to 78-66 with 3:33 left, but that was it.
“I think I got their attention, and I will get it again tomorrow in practice with some of the things we’ve been harping on,” Pecora said. “I think some of the guys could be working a lot harder on some of their weaknesses as we move forward. It’s a point of reference. After you play in this building, any other building you play in shouldn’t rattle you.”
C.J. Fair scored a career-high 26 points and Grant added 16 points and 10 rebounds to pace the Orange.
Syracuse outrebounded Fordham 23-10 in the opening half and took a 46-21 halftime lead. In the second half as the teams continued to struggle to find any sort of rhythm amid 32 fouls called, Fordham rallied, outscoring Syracuse 53-43. The Orange were called for 25 fouls, 15 in the second half, while Fordham had 30 fouls in the game.
“We tried to slow them down, but it was hard,” Fair said. “We just have to have the mindset to play the whole game and adjust to the referees. It takes a little time. It was tough.”
The guard-oriented Rams shot 55.6 percent in the second half and 43.8 percent for the game and finished 11 of 27 from beyond the arc after making just 2 of 12 in the first half.
Syracuse, which started the season with a so-so 82-60 win over Cornell on Friday night after trailing by 14 points late in the first half, had a strong first period against the Rams to take control, then faltered in the second in a game plagued by 55 fouls and 72 free throws under the new NCAA rules.
“First half we were pretty good. We did a pretty good job defensively,” Boeheim said. “But in the second half, I think we felt we had control of the game. We lost our defensive edge and they took advantage of it – and that’s something that we obviously have to work on.
“Our guards are inexperienced in terms of playing out there and knowing how to play the front of the zone and keeping guys in front of it, and that’s the lesson learned.”
Grant, who missed Syracuse’s season opener due to a violation of NCAA rules regarding summer-league play, was sharp, hitting 6 of 12 shots and nabbing three steals. Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis had a solid game after scoring his first collegiate basket on a driving layup on the game’s first possession. He finished with 16 points, five assists, no turnovers and four of the Orange’s 15 steals.
Dajuan Coleman had 10 points and 10 rebounds for Syracuse, while Trevor Cooney, named ACC player of the week after scoring a career-high 27 points against Cornell including 7 of 8 from long range, had two points on 1-of-6 shooting and missed all four attempts he took from beyond the arc.
“I think we’ll be able to adjust after a couple of practices,” Ennis said. “Coach is pointing out that those (hand checks) are fouls now. After playing a few games, I think everybody will be able to adjust.”