|Syracuse's Fab Melo, right, blocks the shot by Seton Hall's Fuquan Edwin as Syracuse's C.J. Fair, left, defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)|
Top-ranked Syracuse beats Seton Hall 75-49
SYRACUSE, N.Y.—A year ago as a raw freshman with little stamina, Fab Melo watched most of Seton Hall's stunning triumph over then-No. 9 Syracuse from the bench.
On Wednesday night, that was a distant memory.
Melo had a career-high 12 points and school-record 10 blocks and top-ranked Syracuse stifled Seton Hall at every turn in a 75-49 victory in the Big East opener for both teams.
"I wasn't surprised," said the 7-foot Brazilian, who is 30 pounds lighter than when he arrived on campus and in the best shape of his life. "I've put a lot of work in. I'm still working hard to get better and I'm sure you'll see better things from me. You're going to be more surprised."
Melo, who had his first career double-double, pulled in seven rebounds. A year ago against the Pirates, he had two points, two rebounds and no blocks in 4 minutes of a 90-68 loss.
Syracuse (14-0, 1-0) gained control in this one with a staunch defensive performance in the opening half, limiting Seton Hall to 5-of-27 shooting (18.5 percent) in building a 34-15 lead.
The Orange finished with 17 steals and 15 blocks, forced 23 turnovers, and limited the Pirates to only one steal -- by Fuquan Edwin, the national leader entering the game with 3.3 per game.
"I thought our defense was as good as it's been all year," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "It was an incredible defensive effort."
Dion Waiters had 15 points and Brandon Triche added 11 for Syracuse, which won easily despite a subpar performance from leading scorer Kris Joseph, who missed all six of his shots and did not score.
"That's a great team right there, man," said Joseph, who had four steals and four assists. "If I can go scoreless and we still win by these many points, it's a great sign."
The victory was the 870th of Boeheim's career, putting him within six of fourth-place Adolph Rupp of Kentucky and nine of third-place North Carolina's Dean Smith on the Division I list.
Jordan Theodore had 14 points but only two assists for Seton Hall (11-2, 0-1), which had an eight-game winning streak snapped. Herb Pope, fourth in the nation in scoring at 20.3 points per game, had just four points and nine rebounds, and Edwin finished with three points -- all on free throws -- on 0-of-11 shooting.
Last January, Jeremy Hazell led a long-range Seton Hall barrage with 28 points as the Pirates hit seven 3s in building a 13-point halftime lead.
The tables were turned this time.
With Hazell gone, Pope is the focus of the Pirates' attack. He has eight double-doubles, tops in the nation, and had only failed to reach double figures in scoring once, in the Pirates' win at Longwood on Friday night when he finished with eight in 29 minutes.
The Syracuse defense clamped down on the big guy, who was 2 of 9 from the field and committed six turnovers.
"I contributed too many turnovers," Pope said. "I didn't execute the game plan as far as getting the big kid (Melo) off his feet, going into him. I helped him have a stellar game."
Etan Thomas held Syracuse's block record with nine. He did it three times, the last in 2000.
Syracuse leads the nation with 11.2 steals per game and a turnover margin of 8.6, and the Orange's penchant for creating mistakes was on full display in the first half. Seton Hall committed 15 turnovers and Pope led the way with five, scoring just two points on a driving dunk and missing the other five shots he attempted.
"We haven't had a home game in a while," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said with a pained smile. "Maybe we thought we were wearing white jerseys. We kept throwing it to them."
Melo, who played 25 minutes, closed the first half with a stunning block of Pope under the basket at the buzzer. It was his eighth block of the half and he did it to Pope again early in the second after scoring two straight baskets. Melo converted a miss by Triche and scored off a nice feed underneath from Joseph to boost the lead to 42-20 with 16:19 left.
"The staff deserves an unbelievable amount of credit and I think Fab deserves an unbelievable amount of credit for transforming his body," Willard said. "That kid is a pleasure to watch."
A 3-pointer by Scoop Jardine boosted the lead to 50-26 at 13:35.
The Pirates missed their first six shots and Syracuse gained a 6-1 lead when Triche followed his own miss and fed Melo for a dunk.
Consecutive baskets by Waiters, the second a steal and dunk, boosted the lead to 12-3 as the Orange began to steadily pull away. When Theodore hit a 3 from the left wing at 8:05, he had 10 of Seton Hall's 12 points.
Syracuse finished just five blocks shy of the school record set Jan. 11, 1992, against Miami, and Willard was more than happy to get out of the Carrier Dome.
"It's tough. You can't really prepare for this type of game, especially when they're at home," Willard said. "You can't sit there and say, `What could we have done if we had made passes?' We could have made a lot of passes. We're still going to get our butt kicked tonight."