Eastern Michigan center Da'Shonte Riley was looking forward to playing against his old buddies at Syracuse. He watched the game against the fourth-ranked Orange slip away in a flurry of turnovers.
Michael Carter-Williams had 11 points and 11 assists and freshman Jerami Grant had a season-high 11 points and two blocks for the Orange in an 84-48 victory over the Eagles on Monday night.
Syracuse (6-0) has won 48 straight nonconference games and boosted its home winning streak to 26 games, this one compliments of the generous Eagles, who finished with 24 turnovers that led to 31 points for the Orange.
"We were concerned with that coming in. We just didn't handle it well," said EMU coach Rob Murphy, an assistant under Syracuse's Jim Boeheim for seven years before taking the job at Eastern Michigan two years ago. "I knew that would be a problem. We worked on it, but until you get in the situation and you're in this place and you see those long, active hands, you just can't prepare for it.
"I don't think we should have turned it over that much — 17 turnovers in the first half, that was enough for a complete game and that's where the game was lost."
Eastern Michigan (5-2) and the Orange had met just twice before, the last time also an 84-48 Syracuse victory a year ago in the Carrier Dome.
Derek Thompson led Eastern Michigan with 18 points and Glenn Bryant had 16. The 7-foot Riley, who transferred from Syracuse to EMU after spending two seasons with the Orange, had three points on 1-of-8 shooting but collected six blocks, one off his career high.
"I though Da'Shonte played as well as he could play," Murphy said. "He had a few easy shots — layups and dunks he should have made — but he's a defensive player. He did his job blocking shots, altering shots, deflecting balls. He did a good job for us defensively. We couldn't score enough points. We couldn't handle the pressure. It got the best of us. That's where I thought we lost the game."
Carter-Williams, who leads the nation in assists at 9.2 per game, had an erratic first half and finished with six of Syracuse's 18 turnovers. Freshman Dajuan Coleman had a season-high 14 points and Brandon Triche finished with 12 for the Orange. James Southerland, who had a career-high 35 points and matched a school record with nine 3-pointers in Friday night's win at Arkansas, finished with four points.
Trevor Cooney, mired in an awful long-range slump — he was 0 for 11 in the three previous games on 3-pointers — missed his first five from beyond the arc against the Eagles before finally making one with 8:09 left. Still, he finished with a season-high 11 points.
Defensively, the Eagles were holding opponents to 36.3 percent shooting, tied for 27th in the country, and the Orange had trouble coping at the outset.
Syracuse missed 10 of its first 12 shots, including three lobs, and committed five turnovers in the opening minutes. Fortunately for the Orange, the Eagles weren't much better, going 4 of 11 and losing the ball five times.
But after Bryant hit two free throws to give Eastern Michigan a 10-3 lead at 14:59, the Orange responded with a 13-2 spurt to gain its first lead and begin to take control behind a pressing defense.
C.J. Fair scored two straight baskets to start the rally and Southerland finished it with a one-handed baseline runner and a pullup jumper from the wing.
Thompson's layup at 7:04 was Eastern Michigan's final basket of the first half as Syracuse closed the period with a 19-3 run that erased any thoughts of an upset.
"There's obviously different levels of college basketball, and we kind of exposed some of that tonight," Riley said. "We've just got to play a lot tougher, a lot stronger, a lot smarter, and I think it'll be all right."
The Eagles were 6 of 22 (27.3 percent) shooting in the first half, missing all six 3-pointers they attempted. Syracuse hit 9 of its final 19 shots to take a 35-17 halftime lead despite 1-for-10 shooting from beyond the arc.
A 3-pointer from the top of the key by Thompson cut the imposing lead to 37-20 in the first minute of the second half. That was the closest the Eagles came the rest of the game.
"We'll be better," Murphy said. "These guys are for the first time playing together. We're trying to find different ways to score, but we have to handle the ball and not have careless turnovers.
"Tonight was a mixture of the length and the size (of Syracuse), and I think our guys got into some spots where they were uncomfortable. Give Syracuse a lot of credit, they do a great job of making you uncomfortable."
Syracuse entered the game averaging 80.2 points per game and was the epitome of consistency scoring inside in the first five games — the Orange registered 44, 44, 42, 42, and 40 points in the paint — and finished with a 48-22 edge there against EMU.