Jim Boeheim talked a lot about his team after Syracuse's latest win. One of his most interesting comments, however, was about the St. John's team that lost 95-70 to the second-ranked Orange on Saturday.
Boeheim, who tied Dean Smith for third place on the victory list with win No. 879, could only shake his head when he spoke of the Red Storm, who have five freshmen and a junior college transfer in their seven-man rotation.
"I don't know how you can do what they've done with five freshmen," Boeheim said. "It's extraordinary to have played the way they have, the win at Cincinnati, the comeback at Duke and they beat West Virginia, which I think is a very good team.
"They have five freshmen and they have won 10 games, four in this conference. That's surprising with that many young guys. They looked young at times today when we hit some big shots. Freshmen aren't used to seeing those things."
Fab Melo scored a career-high 14 points in his return after a three-game absence, helping Syracuse (23-1, 10-1 Big East) post its seventh straight win over the Red Storm and the 13th in their last 14 meetings.
The Orange rallied behind the return of the 7-foot Melo, taking a 41-27 halftime lead and blowing it open by starting the second half on a 16-3 run in front of a sellout crowd of 19,979 at Madison Square Garden, most of whom were wearing orange.
D'Angelo Harrison had 23 points for the Red Storm (10-13, 4-7), who dropped to 0-9 this season against ranked teams. They had four wins last season over top-10 teams. Moe Harkless added 15 points and Phil Greene had 14.
"We fight. We don't worry about the score when we're down," Harrison said of the Red Storm's effort in the second half. "We play basketball and we play hard."
It would have been the fourth straight game St. John's started five freshmen — the "Fresh Five" — but Harrison didn't start because he was late for the team bus. He was in the game within the first 3 minutes.
Harrison had a career-high 29 points against DePaul in the Red Storm's previous game.
It was St. John's worst loss of the season. Georgetown beat the Red Storm 69-49 last month, also at Madison Square Garden. St. John's dropped to 2-6 at Madison Square Garden this season.
"We're depending on our guys showing up every game to get their numbers and when they don't post their numbers it makes it hard to win and then you're riding the emotions of very young guys," said assistant Mike Dunlap, who has been serving as interim coach while Steve Lavin continues his recovery from prostate cancer surgery on Oct. 6. "As they go through this long-term it's going to be an incredible experience for them. We'll see Syracuse again down the road and they exposed us and actually helped us by showing us our weaknesses."
Melo missed the last three games as he resolved an academic issue. He had been allowed to practice with the team and he looked ready from the start of his first game back, once again a force in the middle on the back line of the 2-3 zone.
"I had fun. It felt good to be back on the court with my teammates," Melo said. "I felt a little rusty and I wanted to do everything at once but Coach told me to slow down and I did."
Melo was asked if he was nervous that the academic issue wouldn't be resolved.
"I was never nervous," he said. "I wasn't."
Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair both had 14 points for the Orange, whose only loss this season was at Notre Dame in the first game of the three Melo missed. Kris Joseph and Michael Carter-Williams had 13 points each for Syracuse, which shot 55.7 percent (39 for 70) from the field.
After tying Smith, the longtime coach at North Carolina, Boeheim trails only fellow Hall of Famers Mike Krzyzewski (919) and Bob Knight (902) on the career wins list.
"I can't even see him," Boeheim joked when asked if had heard from Krzyzewski lately about moving up the list. "Dean Smith was an unbelievable coach, one of, I think, the four best ever in college basketball. But we have a long way to go this season."
Boeheim and Syracuse have continued to win despite a tumultuous stretch for the program. Bernie Fine, his assistant for more than 35 years, was fired three games into the season after two former ball boys accused him of sexually molesting them when they were young.
Melo started the run to open the second half with a basket and added a dunk and two free throws as the Orange took a 57-30 lead with 14:31 to play.
Carter-Williams had a breakaway dunk, and after a turnover by St. John's, Waiters had another breakaway jam. As the Red Storm called a 30-second timeout with 9:16 left, the Orange players were all raising their arms, encouraging the crowd to raise the noise level. They did.
Waiters was all smiles in the locker room as he was asked about getting the crowd going in a "road" game.
"It was fun just to get to play an uptempo game because the last couple of teams we played didn't do that," he said. "Hey, it's Orange nation wherever we go. This crowd was into it but at the Carrier Dome we can get them going to where the floor shakes. Now that's fun."