Fab Melo returned to the Syracuse lineup after game absence and the sophomore center paid immediate dividends with a high 14 points, as the second-ranked Orange controlled the paint and 70 victory over St. John's at Madison Square Garden.
Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair also scored 14 points for the Orange (23-1, 10-1 Big East), while Kris Joseph added 13. The comfortable victory gave Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim his 879th career win, tying him with the legendary Dean Smith for third on the all-time Division I list.
"Dean Smith was an unbelievable coach, one of, I think, the four best ever in college basketball," said Boeheim, who downplayed the accomplishment and was more looking forward to the rest of the season. "We have a long way to go this season."
Melo was forced to sit for unspecified reasons, although it was believed to be an academic issue. The Orange were undefeated and the top-ranked team in the nation when the 7-footer first took a seat for the January 21 game at Notre Dame. Syracuse was dominated inside at South Bend and suffered its first loss.
The Orange followed the setback to the Irish with wins over Cincinnati and West Virginia, then had a week off before taking the floor at their home away from home in Manhattan. The Orange, playing in an always-friendly environment at Madison Square Garden with many alumni in attendance, fell behind early but quickly moved in front and went on to their seventh straight win over the Red Storm.
D'Angelo Harrison scored 23 points and Moe Harkless added 15 for St. John's (10-13, 4-7), which had won its last two Big East games. The Red Storm fell to 0-9 this season against ranked opponents.
St. John's opened a quick 7-2 lead as Syracuse missed its first five shots, but the Orange started crashing the offensive boards and responded with the next 10 points to assume control. Melo's offensive rebound and dunk gave Syracuse its first lead at 8-7 and Joseph followed with a thunderous putback dunk on the ensuing trip before a Scoop Jardine layup lifted the Orange to a 12-7 advantage.
The Red Storm answered with the next four, but Harkless' layup with just over 12 minutes remaining in the half was the last basket for St. John's until his jumper four minutes later.
Syracuse, meanwhile, opened some breathing room with a 13-4 run -- the Red Storm's points all coming from the free throw line -- to build a 25-15 edge. The lead reached 13 a couple of minutes later on two free throws by Brandon Triche, but St. John's managed to draw within eight 4 1/2 minutes before the intermission.
The Orange then closed the half with a 7-1 run and Joseph's layup in the final minute sent Syracuse to the break with a 41-27 cushion.
Syracuse grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, held a 25-14 overall rebounding edge and outscored the Red Storm 24-6 in the paint. Joseph scored nine points in the opening 20 minutes to lead the Orange, while Melo was a factor with six points and two blocked shots.
The Orange continued to pour it on at the start of the second half, opening with the first nine points for a 50-27 margin. The lead reached as many as 28 and never dipped below 20.
"The beginning, middle and end they dominated us on the boards and they converted off of those second chance points," said St. John's acting coach Mike Dunlap. "Our ability to take care of things in transition was an issue. When we go back to work on Monday we'll know which side of the ball to work on and that's defense. Full credit to Syracuse, their length gave us fits and their experience on the perimeter -- those guys are very smart, well-coached and they know exactly what to do."
Syracuse is 88-71 all-time at Madison Square Garden, including 3-0 this season. The Orange won the NIT Season Tip-off title in November with victories over Virginia Tech and Stanford at the historic venue...Syracuse freshman Michael Carter-Williams added 13 points and Jardine finished with seven, as the Orange shot 55.7 percent and held a 42-31 edge on the glass...Syracuse will host Georgetown on Wednesday, while St. John's will host Cincinnati on the same night.