Syracuse got a bit of a scare in the first half against Providence but their defense and inside play took over in the second half as the Orange ran away with it, 99-85.
Syracuse dominated inside on offense the entire game. If you count a couple free throws on three-point plays, the Orange scored their first 20 points in the paint. They built a 27-14 lead but if there's one thing Providence can do it's score. They're second in the Big East to Villanova in points per game, averaging 81.6 per contest.
Late in the fourth quarter it seemed like the Friars would surpass their average by a wide margin. With over 5 minutes remaining in the first half, Providence led 45-40. They were absolutely on fire from three-point range. They hit 10 of 19 three-pointers. And it's not like they were easy shots. There was always someone coming at them or they were from NBA range. But then they began to slow down the pace. It seemed like they didn't want to give Syracuse a chance to go on a run and wanted to make sure they would go into halftime with a lead. It worked and Providence led 52-47 at the break.
The second half began the way the first half had gone. Providence knocked down another three and built a 55-47 lead. 11 for 20 from three-point range? Just amazing. But Syracuse never panicked. They stuck to their offense and ratcheted up their defense. They closed out on the shooters better and had active hands. The Orange went on a 14-0 run in which they forced eight turnovers.
After a blistering shooting start that saw Providence hit 58 percent in the first half, they couldn't get going in the second. They finished hitting just 3 of 13 from three-point range while shooting 43 percent from the field in the second half.
Poor Bilal Dixon. Dixon is a freshman who starts at center for the Friars. He had the unenviable task of attempting to guard Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson. He had no chance against the veteran big men. The two combined to hit 19 of 27 shots and scored 40 points. Jackson had a career-high 28 points, hitting 13 of 17 shots. He had 17 in the second half as the Orange pulled away. I don't think he took a shot from further than five feet from the bucket. Yes Providence can score but they certainly can't defend.
They also couldn't defend against Andy Rautins. Rautins also had a career-high with 28 points. He hit 8 of his 12 three-pointers of varying degrees of difficulty. When I see him catch the ball, curl and hoist a deep three-pointer like he did with 5:42 remaining, it makes me think he can play in the NBA. He even dunked during that 14-0 run in which he scored eight of the 14.The win clinches a double-bye in the Big East tournament. Now all their focus goes into preparing for their biggest game of the season. It's the Villanova game fans have been looking forward to for a long time. 34,616 people will pack the Dome and I will be one of them. Let's Go Orange.