Last season, Jim Boeheim didn't follow the norm at Syracuse and gave his bench a lot of playing time and the results were impressive — a school-record 34 wins.
Maybe it marked the dawn of a new era as the venerable coach gets set for another season at his alma mater. On Thursday night in the No. 9 Orange's exhibition opener against Division II Pace, Boeheim gave eight players 17 or more minutes, and they responded with a 99-63 victory.
Senior James Southerland scored 18 points and sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams had 16 points and seven assists to lead five players in double figures.
"It was a good overall first game, better than some others we've had," Boeheim said. "I'm not experimenting. We're going to play nine guys. It's no experimenting. There's no experimenting. We're going to play nine guys."
Got it, Coach.
The Orange began with a starting lineup of Carter-Williams and senior Brandon Triche at guard, sophomore Rakeem Christmas and junior C.J. Fair at forward, and freshman Dajuan Coleman at center. Guard Trevor Cooney, who redshirted as a freshman last season, did not play. He's recovering from a tonsillectomy.
Fair finished with 16 points, backup center Baye Moussa Keita had 14, and Triche and the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Coleman both had 11. Christmas had seven points and five blocks, and freshman Jerami Grant had six points.
Jonathan Merceus had 15 points and nine rebounds to lead Pace and David Eismeier had 14 points, all in the second half.
Boeheim, soon to be 68 and just 10 wins shy of 900, begins his 37th year when the Orange open the season at San Diego State on Nov. 9 before returning home to face Wagner nine days later.
The tallest players in Pace's three-guard starting lineup were 6-foot-6 forwards Keon Williams and Merceus. No surprise that every time the Setters tried to drive the baseline they were met by the long arms of the Orange. Syracuse registered six blocks in the first 10 minutes of play, three by Coleman, and finished with 14.
Carter-Williams played in 26 games as a freshman, sitting often while Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters and Triche played the bulk of the time. Carter-Williams, who lost his temper in an exchange with Boeheim on the bench in early February, played sparingly in the final four games of the regular season and in the Big East tournament, then became just a spectator in the Orange's four games in the NCAA tournament.
All in the rearview mirror now, Carter-Williams logged a team-high 30 minutes against Pace and was all smiles afterward.
"First game, first exhibition game, get the feel for my teammates, I think it was a good game," said Carter-Williams, who had four steals and four turnovers. "I felt like I was back in high school. I learned from great players. They prepared me for this year. I'm ready."
Pace's Williams scored the first basket of the game, then Syracuse reeled off 16 straight points as the Orange hit nine of their first 10 shots. Carter-Williams and Fair both converted a three-point play and hit a 3 to key the spurt.
Jaylen Mann's 3-pointer from the wing at 12:30 cut the Syracuse lead to 20-7 and was the first basket for the Setters since Williams scored in the opening minute.
The Orange responded with a 10-0 run keyed by three-point plays by Coleman and Triche, and Syracuse went into the locker room with a 55-29 lead.
The Orange had to replace their top four players from last season's team, which lost only three times. Gone are top scorer Kris Joseph, Jardine, Big East sixth man of the year Waiters, and big man Fab Melo, defensive player of the year in the Big East in 2011-12. The core four averaged 41.2 points on a team that averaged 74.1 and won by an average margin of 13.1.
They weren't missed against the Setters. Syracuse shot 75 percent (21 of 28), hitting 4 of 5 from beyond the arc, and registered 14 assists in the first half. Syracuse finished 37 of 64 (57.8 percent) and had 23 assists.
"I don't see a lot of high Division I basketball night in and night out, but they looked awfully good to me," Pace coach Jim Harter said. "They've just got some new pieces that they've got to work in. They're good, though."