SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Cincinnati had rallied from a big early deficit against Syracuse to trail by only four points at halftime. It took the Orange less than six minutes to dash any hopes of an upset.
Fourth-ranked Syracuse broke open the game with a 16-0 run to start the second half and remained unbeaten with a 67-52 victory over No. 25 Cincinnati on Saturday. Rick Jackson led the charge with 15 points and 11 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the season.
Freshman center Fab Melo had four points and Brandon Triche and James Southerland each hit 3-pointers to key the game-changing surge.
"To start the second half like that, we played the best offense we've played in a long time and really picked up our defense," coach Jim Boeheim said.
The 7-foot Melo and 6-11 freshman center Baye Moussa Keita combined with Jackson to help defend the middle — the three combined for nine blocks for the Orange (18-0, 5-0 Big East). And when the Bearcats went cold — they made only 2 of their first 20 shots in the second half — the Orange quickly pulled away despite the loss of leading scorer Kris Joseph.
"That says a lot about us, that guys can step up," Jackson said. "Guys are working hard, staying ready when there's an opportunity."
Joseph crashed to the floor on a drive and the back of his head slammed into the hardwood with 6:27 left in the first half. He went to the locker room for evaluation after and did not return, finishing with two points. Boeheim said it was too early to say whether Joseph, who was averaging 15 points, would play Monday night at No. 5 Pittsburgh. Syracuse, one of four unbeatens left in Division I, is one win from matching the best start in program history.
Cincinnati hit 9 of 19 3-pointers in the first half to rally from an early 15-point deficit, but missed its first seven shots of the second to fall behind by 20 points.
"Our two-point shooting was abysmal," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "We were 3 for 25 from two-point range and we made four of our last six to get to 7 for 31. We started both halves very poorly. You can't do that against a team of their caliber."
Scoop Jardine and Triche both scored 11 points and Melo finished with six points and four blocks after picking up three early fouls. Syracuse outrebounded Cincinnati 41-28 and outscored the Bearcats 30-10 in the paint.
Dion Dixon led Cincinnati (16-2, 3-2) with 18 points, all on 3-pointers, and Sean Kilpatrick had 11. Yancey Gates, averaging nearly 12 points and seven rebounds, injured an ankle, played just four minutes in the second half, and finished with three points and three rebounds.
"We struggled to finish," Cronin said. "Our big guys didn't finish around the basket very well. We didn't get the job done. You're not going to beat Syracuse getting outrebounded by 13."
Leading 35-31, Syracuse began the second half with a vengeance, and the Bearcats never got closer than nine points the remainder of the game.
"They're long and lanky," Kilpatrick said. "It's kind of hard to get it in, especially in the low post. If you're shooting great outside, you can be able to attack their zone. Everything was hyped at halftime. We looked at it as we were still in the game. Everything was good. It drifted away fast."
Triche started the surge with a jumper from the wing, James Southerland hit a baseline jumper, and Jackson fed Melo for a resounding slam dunk. Jackson then inbounded the ball to Triche, who drained a 3 from the right corner after a give-and-go with Jackson.
Southerland followed with a 3 from the wing and Jackson shoved his way through the lane for a layup. Melo, who was called for three fouls in the first 3:44 of the game, followed a miss by Triche to give Syracuse a 51-31 lead at 14:07, then swatted away a close-in shot by Ibrahima Thomas.
"Coach wants me to block shots and play defense," Melo said. "I felt very comfortable out there today. I think I'll be even better the next game."
"We needed that from Fab today, and I think he needed it, too," Jardine said. "It's a great opportunity going into his biggest game of the year Monday night."
Cincinnati, which had what was rated as one of the easiest nonconference schedules in Division I, started the season with 15 straight wins before losing at Villanova a week ago. The Bearcats couldn't get anything going offensively in that one. During one stretch they went more than 8 minutes without a field goal, finished the first half with a season-low 23 points, and shot 2 of 20 from 3-point range for the game.
Against the Orange, Cincinnati was just 2 of 11 shooting in the first eight minutes as Syracuse built a 15-point lead. Jackson had six points and Jardine matched that with a pair of 3s before the Bearcats began to find their range from the outside.
Kilpatrick hit a pair of 3s and Larry Davis added another to close the gap to 20-12 with 9:28 remaining in the half.
The Bearcats continued to fire from outside — they made only one basket inside during the period — and the strategy worked. In the final 7:03, Cashmere Wright hit two 3s and Dixon had three to narrow Syracuse's lead to four at halftime.
Cincinnati finished the half 9 of 19 (47.4 percent) from beyond the arc against the team that led the conference in 3-point field goal percentage defense at 27.3 percent.
Cincinnati entered the game leading the Big East with a plus-5.47 turnover margin and had forced more turnovers than assists allowed in every game, the best active streak in Division I. That ended in this one as Syracuse registered 16 assists against 13 turnovers.