Syracuse was firing and missing and Marquiz Baker was hitting everything he tried as Alcorn State dared to dream of an upset.
Then Trevor Cooney hit a pair of 3-pointers and two driving layups, and the ninth-ranked Orange pulled away for a 57-36 over the Braves on Saturday night in the final game of the Gotham Classic.
Syracuse had opened the door by missing its first nine shots of the second half and eight straight points by Baker — a pair of 3-pointers and a steal and layup — had cut a 16-point halftime deficit in half with 13 minutes to play.
"We just made some transition points," said Baker, who had averaged 25.7 points in three games since returning from a foot injury that had sidelined him since November of 2011. "We got some rebounds and started pushing it, found the open man, had a couple steals. I just needed a little spacing. I'm having to shoot from NBA range, or a step behind it."
Baker finished with 15 points and LeAntwan Luckett had 11 to lead the Braves.
C.J. Fair scored 13 points to lead Syracuse and Cooney scored his 12 points in the second half.
It was the 901st win for Orange coach Jim Boeheim, one behind Bob Knight for second place all-time among Division I men's coaches. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski leads with 939 wins.
Syracuse (11-1), coming off an 83-79 loss to Temple at Madison Square Garden a week ago, increased its home winning streak to 31 games, longest in the nation. Alcorn State (2-13) dropped to 0-9 on the road in losing its ninth straight.
Freshman Dajuan Coleman had eight points and six rebounds, while James Southerland and Brandon Triche, the Orange's top two scorers, finished a combined 2 for 13 shooting for eight points. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who had only six assists against Temple, breaking a five-game streak in which he had registered at least 10, again finished with six to boost his season total to 119.
"I don't know if it was our defense, but we kind of emphasized we could really stop those guys," Alcorn State coach Luther Riley said. "We know the point guard. We tried to take his decision-making power away at times, make him be a scorer so he wouldn't set those other guys up. We knew he is the glue to get those other guys going. If we hadn't given up 21 offensive rebounds and had 28 turnovers, I think it would have been a better ballgame."
Syracuse finished 3 of 15 from behind the arc and 12 of 28 on free throws, a second straight lackluster performance in both. The Orange also shot 21 of 56 (37.5 percent) for the game.
Syracuse led by 16 at halftime, and it was a struggle to get there. The Orange were 12 of 33 from the floor, including 1 of 9 as they continued their woeful long-range shooting. They were 2 of 12 in the loss to Temple.
The Braves weren't much better, going 1 of 8 on 3-pointers. Alcorn State also was called for two shot-clock violations and committed 17 turnovers as Syracuse pressed a good portion of the opening period.
"We was expecting the press," Baker said. "They threw it at us at different times where we got caught off-guard. We were prepared for it, so I think we handled it semi-well. We just had way too many turnovers. We have a lot of new guys on the team, first time in this atmosphere, and I think they just got a little jittery. Just jitters, emotions."
After Baker's baseline runner at the shot-clock buzzer gave Alcorn State a 6-4 lead, Syracuse went on a sloppy 19-4 run. After Carter-Williams passed to Southerland for a 3-pointer and an 11-6 lead, Southerland committed a foul, Cooney missed a 3, and Jerami Grant missed twice.
No problem. The Braves committed two straight turnovers and were called for a shot-clock violation.
After Grant completed a three-point play to boost the lead to 19-10 midway through the period, both teams continued their bumbling play.
Baker hit a 3 after the shot clock expired and the Braves were then called for two fouls and lost the ball twice. At the other end, Triche missed and Southerland was way off the mark on a 3 before
Coleman's hook shot at the buzzer gave Syracuse a 32-16 lead at the break. Then the Orange went into that second-half funk and the Braves capitalized. After Baker's flurry, a reverse layup by Stephane Raquil moved the Braves within 36-29 with 11:58 left.
The Orange were still searching for their first basket of the half, and when Cooney finally broke through with a 3 at 11:20, the ball squirted to him in the left corner off the right foot of Triche.
Southerland then passed to Fair for a dunk and the Orange moved back in front by 12 points as they went on a 19-5 spurt.
"Like any game, we come to win," Riley said. "We had two senior forwards that didn't show up to play tonight. We can take this and understand that in 10 minutes we cut it to seven, we turn it over, we miss two free throws, and then we miss two assignments on defense (against Cooney). On the road, against any nationally ranked team, you cannot miss free throws, turn the ball and give them unforced opportunities."