Christmas gets 21, No. 23 Syracuse beats KSU 89-42
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim always seems to have a senior to rely on. This year is no exception.
Center Rakeem Christmas is expected to carry more of the offensive load than he ever has, and one game into the new season, he's on target.
Christmas had a career-high 21 points along with nine rebounds and freshman forward Chris McCullough added 16 points and 11 rebounds as No. 23 Syracuse beat Kennesaw State 89-42 in the Orange's season opener Friday night in the 2K Classic.
The 6-foot-9 Christmas did most of his work inside as the Orange dominated the paint 50-14, but he also hit the occasional jumper.
''I just wanted to be aggressive,'' said the normally laid-back Christmas, a native of the Caribbean. ''When I get the ball, I'm trying to be aggressive with it. That's what I've been doing.''
Nigel Pruitt paced the Owls with 11 points, while Delbert Love, Damien Wilson, and Orlando Coleman each scored eight. But the first meeting between the teams was a mismatch as the Orange dominated despite some sloppy early play. Syracuse took control with a 22-2 run in the first half and cruised.
''First game, you're going to make some mistakes,'' said Boeheim, starting his 39th year at his alma mater. ''Hopefully, we'll learn from them.''
Boeheim has to figure out a way to replace the offense generated last year by top scorers C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis. They combined to average 40.7 points on a team that averaged 68, and all three have departed.
It figures to be a gradual process.
Syracuse took a 20-point halftime lead despite shooting 15 of 43 (34.9 percent). The Owls struggled against the Orange's 2-3 zone, committing 16 turnovers as Syracuse nabbed a dozen steals before the break, scoring 20 points off those turnovers.
Syracuse also finished with a 56-26 edge in rebounds for the game.
B.J. Johnson had a career-high 19 points, Trevor Cooney 12, and freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph had four points, six assists, and four turnovers.
The Owls brought back all five starters from last year's 6-25 team, which changed coaches during the season. And Kennesaw State went on a four-game tour in Italy during the summer. The extra practices the NCAA allots teams going on summer exhibitions gave new head coach Jimmy Lallathin a chance to work with the team and better establish his system.
The Owls, who started freshman guard Nick Masterson (he didn't take a shot in 17 minutes), still have a lot of work to do. In the opening half, they shot 25 percent (6 of 24) and the Orange broke the game open with 16 straight points.
''They're young guys,'' Lallathin said. ''I just wonder if we're ready for that stage yet. Our freshman shooter, he hasn't seen that kind of closeout before. I thought he had some looks. He didn't take them. He's just not used to that.''
In its brief run in the NCAA tournament in the spring, Syracuse missed all 10 attempts it took from beyond the arc in a tough two-point loss to Dayton. It was the first time in 665 games that Syracuse failed to make a 3. The Orange missed all five they took in the first half Friday night before Ron Patterson drained a 3 from the right side midway through the second half. Syracuse finished 4 of 15 from beyond the arc.
The Owls will travel over 10,000 miles in its first five games, visiting three states and playing in three time zones. They now head to the West Coast.
Lallathin recently received a one-game suspension for NCAA rules violations. He'll serve the suspension on Sunday at Cal.
Syracuse hasn't lost a nonconference game in the Carrier Dome in 52 games - since a 72-69 loss to Cleveland State on Dec. 15, 2008, on a 60-foot shot at the buzzer by Cedric Jackson.
Syracuse: The Orange's starting lineup featured Christmas, a senior center, fourth-year junior Cooney, Joseph, McCullough, and sophomore Tyler Roberson, who averaged just 8.1 minutes per game last year.
Kennesaw State: The Owls added six players in the offseason - two true freshmen and four transfers. Rookie Nick Masterson is expected to make an impact, as is Wilson, a junior transfer. Wilson, a 6-foot-7 forward, didn't transfer to Kennesaw State until August after playing in 43 games for Memphis.
Syracuse: Orange host Hampton on Sunday.
Kennesaw State: Owls play at Cal on Sunday.
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