Fab-ulous Defense

Syracuse used a couple big runs and some solid defense to stymie Cincinnati and hand the Bearcats their second loss of the season.

On paper, Saturday’s contest between the undefeated Syracuse Orange and the one-loss Cincinnati Bearcats looked like a battle of top Big East teams. However, the Orange used big runs at the start of both halves and the biggest college basketball crowd this season to run away from the Bearcats for an easy 67-52 win.

The Orange started the game with a 9-0 run and built a 15 point lead early in the first half much to the delight of the 24,338 on hand. Senior Rick Jackson led the early charge as he scored six of his team-high 15 points in the opening minutes. Jackson also finished the game with 11 rebounds to record his eleventh double-double of the season.

Despite falling behind early, the Bearcats rallied late in the first half thanks to some hot shooting from beyond the arc. Cincinnati knocked down nine 3’s in the opening period, including four from Dion Dixon who finished with a game-high 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting.

After leading much of the first half by double digits, SU found itself up only four at the break, 35-31. Along with losing their double digit lead, the Orange also lost leading scorer Kris Joseph who left the game midway through the first half after smacking his head hard on the court.

Joseph headed straight to the locker room, and did not return for the remainder of the game due to headaches.

As good as Syracuse’s start to the first half was, their explosion after halftime was even better. The Orange locked down with their patented 2-3 zone and held the Bearcats scoreless for the first seven minutes while embarking on a 16-0 run. When the dust settled, Cuse had regained command of the game with a 51-31 advantage.

SU’s run was capped with a layup by the preseason Big East Freshman of the Year, Fab Melo. Though the 7-footer hasn’t lived up to expectations so far this season, he may have had a breakout game against the Bearcats. After picking up three early fouls, Melo had a huge second half and finished the game with six points four rebounds and four blocks in 15 minutes of action.

“I’ve been struggling lately, but today I felt confident,” Melo said in a postgame interview with the media. “I was playing defense and making plays. I felt really confident today.

“The thing I do the best is block shots. They tried to dunk on me, like a lot of people do, but when people try to dunk on me I say ‘No.’ I had a lot of fun in there blocking shots.”

Cincinnati would make one more run, pulling to within nine, 61-52, on a layup by Sean Kilpatrick with 2:22 to play. However, the Bearcats inability to penetrate the Syracuse D was too much to overcome when Dixon and rest of the Cincy team cooled off from 3-point land.

“Defending Dion Dixon,” senior Scoop Jardine said when asked what was the difference between the first and second half. “He was making some Jimmer Fredette 3’s today. He was absolutely knocking them down. We had to defend him. Once we did a great job of running him off his spot, we opened the game up. Even in the first half, they couldn’t defend us. We just had to stop them. Once we did that, it opened right up.”

The Orange now hit the road for a huge matchup between conference and national powerhouses when they take on No. 5 Pittsburgh Monday night. If Syracuse is able to pull out the victory, it will tie for the best start in program history.

The Panthers are currently 16-1 (4-0) with wins over Texas, UCONN and Georgetown. Tipoff for their game against the Orange is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Peterson Events Center.

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