Christmas has 19, Syracuse beats Cornell 61-44
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) When the shots didn't fall for Syracuse in the early going against Cornell, the Orange defense stymied the Big Red's shooters and Rakeem Christmas did what he does best - dominate inside.
Christmas scored 19 points and snared nine rebounds, Trevor Cooney added 14 points and Syracuse beat Cornell 61-44 on Wednesday night.
Syracuse (9-4) completed the nonconference portion of its schedule with three straight wins and begins Atlantic Coast Conference play on Saturday. Coach Jim Boeheim figures the Orange are ready.
''I think we finished the year playing very well the last few games,'' Boeheim said. ''We've come through this as well as could be expected. We're playing much, much better.''
The Big Red (6-7) hasn't beaten the Orange since 1968.
Whether it was a hook in the lane against a double team, a lefty layup off the glass in the face of multiple defenders, or a jumper from the foul line, Christmas again was on his game, shooting 9 of 12 and also blocking two shots while falling one rebound short of his fifth double-double.
''Christmas has turned himself into an NBA player,'' Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. ''The shots he made tonight - I don't know if it's obvious to the common fan - but some of the plays he made were phenomenal. Double-teamed, left-handed jump hooks. He's really a good player.''
Shonn Miller led Cornell with 12 points and JoJo Fallas added 11.
Cornell dug an early hole from which it couldn't escape, hitting just 1 of 15 shots to start the game and falling behind 14-2. The Big Red trailed 23-12 at halftime, the result of 5-of-25 shooting, 2 of 13 from behind the arc.
Miller didn't attempt his first shot until past the midpoint of the period and Cornell's top scorers - Miller, Robert Hatter, and Galal Cancer - combined to go 3 for 14 in the first half, with Hatter missing seven 3s.
''I was just trying to get a feel for the game, let the game come to me, not try to force anything,'' Miller said. ''We didn't really get into our offensive game plan.''
Cornell rallied just a little bit behind Fallas's 3 and Miller's shot from the wing on consecutive possessions to close within 14-7 at 4:27.
Fortunately for the Big Red, Syracuse also struggled in the opening period, shooting 10 of 27 (37 percent).
''I thought the first half our defense was tremendous,'' Courtney said. ''We were executing our game plan a little bit as far as crowding Christmas, staying attached to Cooney. It was kind of what we wanted to do. We just couldn't make a shot.''
Syracuse started the second half making its first eight shots in a 16-5 spurt keyed by 3-pointers from Cooney and Michael Gbinije to stretch the lead to 35-17 at the first media timeout.
Three baskets by Christmas and a dunk by Cooney off a steal by Ron Patterson gave Syracuse a 43-22 lead with 11:57 to play, and the Orange cruised.
''We're doing fine,'' Christmas said. ''Everybody is playing together. I feel good. Everybody's improved. We can go out there and beat anyone.''
Although the Big Red has never beaten Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, it has excelled from behind the arc against the Orange for the past decade.
Not on this night, though. The Big Red could only shrug in frustration when shots like a 3-point attempt by Fallas early in the second half dropped deep into the cylinder and then somehow rolled back up and out. Cornell finished the game 4 of 22 from long range, with Hatter 1 of 8 from deep and 1 of 11 overall.
Cornell: The Big Red has already improved dramatically from last season when it finished 2-26. ... One of the keys has been the return of the 6-foot-7 Miller, who sat out 2013-14 with a shoulder injury. Miller, a co-captain, is the leading scorer (16.5 points per game) on the team.
Syracuse: In the previous four games, Cooney was an impressive 14 of 27 (51.8 percent) from beyond the arc. ... In the first four games of the season, he was 8 of 24 (33.3 percent), proving it helps to have help. It's come from Gbinije, who was 7 of 12 (58.3 percent) on 3s in the previous four games and went 2 for 13 (5.5 percent) from long range in the first four games of the season.
Since 2004, Cornell had shot lights out in the Carrier Dome. Entering Wednesday night, the Big Red had averaged 11.3 made 3-pointers while shooting just under 40 percent (39.7) from beyond the arc against the Syracuse zone.
Cornell is at Buffalo on Saturday.
Syracuse is at Virginia Tech on Saturday.
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