Syracuse's Kaleb Joseph, right, attempts to reclaim a layup that he missed during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Holy Cross at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., Friday, Nov. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth)
Heather Ainsworth
November 28, 2014

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) The Syracuse gang that can't shoot straight from outside sure gets it done in the paint.

Overcoming a 0-for-14 performance from beyond the arc, the Orange again relied on its defense and interior game as center Rakeem Christmas scored a career-high 25 points and freshman forward Chris McCullough added 14 points and 13 rebounds in a 72-48 win over Holy Cross on Friday night.

''People hit shots, people miss shots. That's just how it goes sometimes,'' said Syracuse freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph, who had a season-high 14 points. ''You don't win or lose a game based on how many 3-pointers you make. As long as we continue to play the right way, we'll win.''

It was the third straight win for Syracuse (5-1) since a 14-point loss to California at Madison Square Garden and extended the Orange's nonconference home winning streak to 55, second to Duke's 110.

Holy Cross (3-1) figured to be a difficult opponent, having opened the season with a 58-57 win over then-No. 25 Harvard. It was the school's first win over a ranked team since March 5, 1977 - 29 games spanning 37 years.

The Orange were ranked No. 23 to start the season but fell out of the top 25 after the loss and had rebounded with two straight wins behind a stout defense. The trend continued against the Crusaders, who found no room underneath the basket and didn't fare well from outside, either, going 3 for 16.

''They're just so strong and athletic,'' Holy Cross coach Milan Brown said. ''They hurt us getting to the front of the rim and making baskets. We couldn't make them shoot enough jump shots. That's what we were going to have to do. The high-percentage shots they got, it was like we weren't even there at times. They're tough.''

Christmas finished 8 of 10 from the floor, missed just one of 10 foul shots, snared eight rebounds, notched three blocks, and committed a season-low three fouls.

''I was just getting the ball in the post,'' Christmas said. ''Coach said if they weren't doubling me, just go to the rim, and that's what I was doing. Just went up with it.''

Midway through the first half, the Orange put together a 10-0 spurt, capped by a Christmas basket in the lane. That was the first of eight straight points by the Orange's leading scorer, who converted two follow shots and two free throws to boost the Syracuse lead to 26-13.

When Malcolm Miller hit a 3-pointer for Holy Cross at 4:53, it was the first make from behind the arc in the game after 15 misses by both teams.

Syracuse closed the half with a 13-6 run, holding the Crusaders to just a pull-up jumper by Eric Green and two free throws by Anthony Thompson to take a commanding 39-17 lead into halftime.

Holy Cross shot 6 of 30 (20 percent) and 1 of 9 from behind the arc in the half and also committed seven turnovers to just four for Syracuse, which outscored the Crusaders 42-16 in the paint overall.

The Crusaders, who like to press, entered the game having forced an average of 21.7 turnovers and ranked second in the nation in steals with 14 per game. Against Syracuse, they forced just four turnovers and had only two steals in the decisive first half.

''We're trying to pressure the basketball,'' Brown said. ''We didn't shoot the ball well, which didn't allow us to set our pressure.''

Miller led Holy Cross with 18 points. Leading scorer Eric Green, who was averaging 14 points, finished with four.

The Crusaders regrouped and began the second half with an 18-7 run, whittling the lead to 46-35 with 13:08 to go on consecutive baskets by Miller and free throws by Malachi Alexander and Justin Burrell.

''In the second half we got complacent, made some bad turnovers, and that's what you worry about when you play a team that pressures,'' Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. ''But we came back when we had to.''

And Christmas led the way, scoring six straight points to boost the lead back to 19 with 9:05 left.

Syracuse sophomore Tyler Roberson missed his second straight game with an abdominal muscle strain.

TIP-INS

Holy Cross: Green was 2 of 14 from the floor for just four points. He entered the game averaging 14 points and was shooting 19 of 32 (59.4 percent).

Syracuse: In its loss to Dayton in the NCAA tournament in March, Syracuse missed all 10 attempts from beyond the arc. It was the first time in 665 games that the Orange failed to make a 3. Now, they've done it twice in seven games.

TALK IS CHEAP: With McCullough second on the team in scoring, averaging more than 15 points, there's already talk of the NBA, and that makes Boeheim cringe.

''I've talked to 10 pro scouts. Not one of them thought Chris McCullough was a first-round pick,'' Boeheim said. ''When you print that stuff, people read it. That's the kind of misinformation that gets kids thinking about things and parent thinking about things that make no sense whatsoever.''

UP NEXT

Holy Cross at Albany on Wednesday.

Syracuse at No. 19 Michigan on Tuesday.

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Follow Kekis on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/Greek1947

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