Waiters drops 22 points for Syracuse
At times, top-ranked Syracuse looked dominant and more than worthy of its No. 1 ranking. At others, the Orange looked flustered and vulnerable against a hot-shooting opponent playing in front of a rowdy home crowd.
Perhaps that’s why Kris Joseph sounded so pleased with the Orange’s 88-72 win against North Carolina State on Saturday night.
”Not to say that we’re arrogant, but we’re No. 1 in the country for a reason,” the senior said. ”Going into someone else’s home, it’s always going to be tough. Like I said, we held our composure — that’s what I took out of this game.”
Dion Waiters scored a career-high 22 points to lead the Orange (11-0) and teamed with Scoop Jardine to finally give Syracuse some cushion during an 11-2 second-half run after the Wolfpack fought back from 17 down late in the first half.
Waiters started the spurt by knocking down his own three-pointer to answer one by Scott Wood that brought N.C. State (6-4) within 63-61. He also jumped a pass and raced in for a dunk, while Jardine added a pair of threes that helped give Syracuse a 74-63 lead with 6:41 left.
”We knew they were going to come out throwing punches and we had to be ready to throw punches back,” Waiters said. ”With the No. 1 team coming inside here, we knew it was going to be a hostile environment but we had to stick together as a unit, play together and do everything we usually do in practice.”
N.C. State got no closer than eight again, with the Orange blowing the game open in the final minutes.
”The single best thing was that when they made that comeback, our players kept their poise,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. ”They just kept getting good shots.”
The Orange — who will join N.C. State in the Atlantic Coast Conference in the coming years — was playing for the first time as No. 1 this season after Kentucky and Ohio State lost road games last weekend. It also was Syracuse’s first true road test after playing the first 10 games in its home state.
The game was also a bit of a rarity for the Wolfpack. N.C. State has frequently had nearby rivals Duke and North Carolina come into Raleigh with a No. 1 ranking, but this was the first time a non-conference No. 1 had come here since Notre Dame in February 1979 and just the second time in program history.
Senior C.J. Williams scored a career-high 25 points for the Wolfpack, thriving by flashing to the high post underneath the guards in the Syracuse zone for mid-range shots. C.J. Leslie added 13 points despite battling leg cramps in the second half and Richard Howell had 12 for N.C. State, but Syracuse defenders paid close attention to Wood — who had 18 points and six 3s in the Orange’s win last season — and held him to eight points on 3-for-7 shooting.
N.C. State fell behind big when Syracuse ran off 23 unanswered points to build a 47-33 halftime lead. The Wolfpack charged out of halftime to erase the deficit and twice tied the game to re-energize the red-clad crowd — only to see Waiters and Jardine (16 points) knock down huge shots to take back control.
Waiters went 9 for 14 from the field and finished with three threes, while Jardine scored 14 on 6-for-6 shooting in the second half.
”Those are probably the best guards we’re going to play against,” Williams said. ”Those guys, they’re so good off the bounce and then if they’ve got the shot going, they’re really tough to guard.”
Joseph finished with 21 points for Syracuse, which shot 57 percent and hit 11 of 25 three-point tries. N.C. State was even better at 58 percent and made 7 of 14 threes, but the Wolfpack committed 19 turnovers that led to 25 points for Syracuse. In addition, Waiters’ huge scoring day helped the Orange bench outscore the Wolfpack reserves 46-4 for the game.
N.C. State fell to 5-26 against No. 1 teams, with its last win coming in 2004 against Duke. The game also denied N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried a huge win to build on in his first year with the Wolfpack.
”Once you lose a game, you sit up here and say, ‘They’ve got a great team, yada, yada, yada,”’ Gottfried said. ”I’ve been around a lot of good teams, guy, and that team right there might be playing on Monday night in April. We did a lot of good things tonight. We just didn’t do enough of them.”