Rick Jackson and Syracuse made sure the Orange’s lone senior had a Senior Night to remember. SU jumped on DePaul early, turning the game into a laugher by halftime as the Orange beat the Blue Demons 107-59, locking up the No. 4 seed and a double-bye in the upcoming Big East tournament.
Jackson led the Orange with 14 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes of action. The forward also recorded four blocks on the night, before checking out to a thunderous applause with 3:32 left. After the game, Jackson said it couldn’t have ended any better.
“It meant a lot just to get that support from friends, family and the coaches. I had a great time here, and I wouldn’t want to have went nowhere else in the world,” he said. “This made me a man, and I’m ready to go on into the next chapter of my life. Right now, we’ve still got some business to take care of and I’m going to try and finish out this year strong.”
For DePaul (7-23, 1-17), it was a brutal finish to an ugly regular season. After scoring on the game’s opening possession, the Blue Demons watched the Orange reel of 11 unanswered points. By the time the first period was half over, the only excitement left was how many minutes the bench would get.
For the game, the Orange shot a ridiculous 71.4 percent from the field (45-of-63), including knocking down 7-of-9 3-pointers.
“You see teams hit a lot of 3-pointers against us and have their best games, but this is the first game where everybody’s shots were going in,” guard Brandon Triche said. “We shot 70 percent from the 3-point line, I don’t think we ever did that before. It starts with defense and we were able to just capitalize on their mistakes and their misses and get in transition.”
The most impressive part of SU’s shooing was its balance, as the Orange had six players score in double figures. Scoop Jardine joined Jackson with a team-high 14 points, freshman Dion Waiters had 12, Kris Joseph and C.J. Fair each had 11, and Fab Melo had his best game of the season with 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting.
All told, 17 players saw playing time for Syracuse, and 12 of those players scored a basket.
“It seemed that every shot went in. Tough shots, easy shots, they all went in the basket. When that happens, we have an easy day,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “We made a lot of shots. When you make a lot of shots, that’s what happens … everybody that got in did something good and positive.”
As good as the SU offense was, the Syracuse defense may have been even better. The Orange forced 14 turnovers and held the Blue Demons to 39 percent shooting. During SU’s five-game winning streak, the Orange have held all but one of their opponents (Rutgers) to less than 40 percent from the field.
“I think we’re playing our best defensive basketball,” Triche said. “I think offensively, we can get better, and we will, but we still have time. I think it was very important for us just to string off a few wins going towards the end of the season and going to the Big East tournament and just having that confidence as a team.”
In the second half, with the game well in hand, the only question that remained was whether or not the ‘Cuse would reach triple digits. That question was answered emphatically by C.J. Fair when he hammered home a thunderous tomahawk slam with 3:34 remaining in the game.
“I’m not even going to rank myself,” Fair said when asked where he thought that dunk would land in Sportcenter’s Top 10 highlights. “I just hope I get some Top 10 love. Last time, everybody boosted my head up, and I didn’t even get in the Top 10.”
Securing the double-bye in the upcoming conference tournament may have been the biggest thing the Orange accomplished Saturday. Now Syracuse (25-6, 12-6) has a few more days to practice, prepare, and patch up before trying to survive the gauntlet that is the Big East tournament.
“We go to New York with a good thing, the double-bye,” Boeheim said. “It didn’t work out too well last year. You’re going to play a team that is coming off a good win and gain confidence from that. We’ll see what happens when we get down there.”
As the No. 4 seed, the Orange will play either the No. 5 seed, St. John’s, the No. 12 seed, Seton Hall, or the No. 13 seed Rutgers. Regardless of who it plays, Syracuse knows that it will play at 2 p.m. Thursday.