CINCINNATI – The first capacity crowd of the season at Cincinnati's home court headed for the exits early. All the fans' energy couldn't produce a signature win.
Kris Joseph scored 17 points Monday night, repeatedly driving past defenders for layups, and No. 3 Syracuse recovered from its first loss of the season by beating Cincinnati 60-53 with an offense that attacked inside and a defense that had its way.
The Orange (21-1, 8-1 Big East) used a late 12-2 run to pull away from the Bearcats (15-6, 5-3), who tried to use the energy of their first home sellout to get a notable win.
Instead, coach Jim Boeheim came away with career victory No. 877, moving him ahead of Adolph Rupp into sole possession of fourth place on the Division I coaching list.
Bearcats coach Mick Cronin was most upset with a defense that repeatedly broke down in the second half.
"I thought our defense was atrocious," Cronin said. "They shot layups. I don't care if we're playing Syracuse or St. Ann's, where I went to grade school. You let guys dribble in for layups, they're going to make them."
Syracuse was coming off a 67-58 loss at Notre Dame on Saturday that ended the best start in school history and cost the Orange their No. 1 ranking. They quickly got back on their game, with their zone defense holding Cincinnati to 53 points, matching its season low against Xavier.
Cashmere Wright had 17 points for Cincinnati, which suffered its first back-to-back losses of the season. The Bearcats were coming off an overtime loss at West Virginia on Saturday.
"If you've got an opportunity to close out a game, you've got to take it," power forward Yancy Gates said. "Because if the other team gets it, nine times out of 10 they're going to take it. We've got to do a better job of closing it out at the end."
The Bearcats wore throwback uniforms for their biggest home game of the season. Most of the 13,176 fans dressed in white, and the coaches wore white button-down shirts without jackets. Syracuse's late spurt sent them to the exits before the buzzer.
The Orange were missing 7-foot center Fab Melo for the second straight game. Melo is their top rebounder and shot blocker. The school hasn't disclosed the reason for his absence.
Syracuse leads the Big East with 78.9 points per game and 48 percent shooting, fueled by fast-break layups off turnovers. Cincinnati kept it close until the late Orange run.
The Bearcats fed off the crowd's energy and made four of their first five shots from behind the arc, including three long 3s by Wright, for a 15-6 lead. They went cold after that and had trouble scoring consistently.
"They kind of pushed (the zone) out more, so it was harder to get those shots off that we got at beginning of the game," Wright said. "No excuse. We've got to play better defense and make things happen."
C.J. Fair had a fast-break dunk and a baseline jumper during a 9-0 run that tied it at 15. Both defenses then dug in, keeping it close the rest of the half.
Syracuse never led during its loss at Notre Dame, unable to overcome a slow start. The Orange got their first lead Monday in the final minute of the half. Joseph had a driving dunk — he went past two Bearcats on the baseline — and Dion Waiters hit a pull-up jumper with a second left for a 28-25 halftime lead.
Cincinnati went inside to Gates at the start of the second half and got a lot of open shots. The power forward had three layups and a 15-foot jumper, scoring eight of the Bearcats' first 13 points in the half.
Gates had his best offensive game since returning from a six-game suspension for a brawl against Xavier, scoring 16 points.
Syracuse eventually found its touch from behind the arc. Scoop Jardine hit a 3 with 9:30 left — the Orange had been 0 for 8 — and Brandon Triche followed with another during the 12-2 run that gave the Orange a 52-44 lead with 6:08 to go.
Another 3 by Jardine pushed it to 59-48 with 1:52 left, sending the white-shirted fans to the exits.