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Grant boosts Orange

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SYRACUSE — It’s games like this that will earn Syracuse freshman Jerami Grant more playing time for the rest of the season.

The rookie forward energized a sluggish Orange offense in the first half Monday night with six quick points, sparking an SU run that eventually produced an 84-48 nonconference victory over Eastern Michigan at the Carrier Dome.

Grant, who has played the least of the nine scholarship SU players, finished with a career-high 11 points in just 15 minutes as fourth-ranked SU (5-0) won a school-record 26th straight game at home.

The Orange has also collected 47 consecutive wins in regular-season nonconference games, beating Eastern Michigan and former Jim Boeheim assistant Rob Murphy by the same score as last season.

For Grant, it was an opportunity to show his coach what he can do in a close game.

“I’m just biding my time and waiting for a chance to prove I deserve playing time,’’ said the 6-foot-7 native of Hyattsville, Md., who has averaged just eight minutes a game in the early season. “I tried to be active, to give us some energy and to do what I can do to help us win.’’

Boeheim certainly noticed his rookie’s effort.

“He made some great plays when it was anybody’s game,’’ said Boeheim, who inched ever closer to the 900-win plateau with his 896th career victory. “It was a good opportunity to get him into a game situation. It’s going to be tough to find him minutes playing behind C. J. (Fair) and James (Southerland), but these are games where he can help us and it will just build his confidence.’’

After a resounding 91-82 win at Arkansas last Friday in a fast-paced game, the Orange sleep-walked through the first 10 minutes Monday as Eastern Michigan’s 2-3 zone slowed the SU offense to a crawl.

SU missed 10 of its first 12 shots, and fell behind 10-3 against the Eagles (5-2) from the Mid-American Conference.

“It’s not unusual to come out slow after such an emotional, high tempo game at Arkansas,’’ Boeheim said. “Their defense is solid, and when you’re not making shots, your offense looks like that.’’

Senior reserve James Southerland, who was named Big East Conference Player of the Week off his superb 35-point performance at Arkansas, finally hit a couple of short jumpers to give SU its first lead with eight minutes left.

And when Grant entered the game with just over six minutes remaining, he made an immediate impact.

First he took a pass from Michael Carter-Williams and hit a 10-foot jumper to give SU a 22-14 lead.

Grant then converted a 3-point play on a driving hoop in traffic and a free throw. He then capped off a strong half by grabbing an offensive rebound, getting fouled and making a free throw as SU surged into a 35-17 halftime lead.

“The way he finished around the basket was the most impressive thing,’’ Boeheim said. “He was certainly the best player on the court for us the first half.’’

After a first half in which they shot just 35 percent and had more turnovers (10) than assists (8), the Orange got its transition game going the second half by dominating the backboards.

SU netted 29 second-half points in transition, and dominated in the paint with a 48-22 edge.

SU’s full-court press was also effective, forcing 24 turnovers which the Orange converted into 31 points.

“Our goal in the press is to get some turnovers, not really points,’’ Boeheim said. “But tonight we were able to push the ball and get some easy points off those steals.’’

In the second half, Grant hit only his second 3-pointer of the season and a layup, finishing 4-for-4 from the field. He finished off his night with a nice feed to fellow freshman DaJuan Coleman (career-high 14 points) for a dunk.

Senior Brandon Triche scored 12 points and had five assists, Carter-Williams had 11 points and 11 more assists, and redshirt freshman guard Trevor Cooney notched his first double-figure game for the Orange with 11 points.

“We’re trying to play nine guys in these early games, but that rotation may shrink to seven or so later in the season,’’ Boeheim said. “But if Jerami and Trevor can show me they can contribute, they’ll be in there more.’’

The only real negative for SU was its 18 turnovers, with the backcourt duo of Carter-Williams and Triche accounting for 10 of those.

“Michael has been playing so well, we forget he’s just a young kid who would normally make mistakes,’’ Boeheim said. “But he’s trying to make plays, and just got caught up in the air a few too many times tonight. He’s a quick learner and he will recover from a game like this.’’

Carter-Williams, who leads the nation in assists per game (9.1) said, “I don’t worry about turnovers. I just move onto the next game and hope to do better.’’

Derek Thompson scored 18 points for Eastern Michigan.

Next up for SU is a Thursday night home game against Long Beach State.

CALHOUN HAD CANCER SURGERY

Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun says he had surgery in May to remove an apparent cancerous growth from his lungs.

Calhoun mentioned the surgery while taping an episode of YES Network’s Center Stage with Michael Kay in New York.

Calhoun told YES that doctors removed the growth, concerned it might be related to a previous skin cancer.

Reached later by telephone, Calhoun confirmed the surgery.

“It was cancer-related, yes,” he said. “I’m not going to talk about it. I was out for a day and a half. I’m completely healthy now.”

Calhoun also told YES that he has not completely ruled out a return to coaching.

UTAH TO HONOR MAJERUS

University of Utah officials will honor the legacy of Rick Majerus by hanging a replica of his trademark white sweater from the rafters at the basketball arena where he coached from 1989 to 2004 and regularly led the Utes to the NCAA tournament.

A moment of silence will be held at Utah’s next game Wednesday and players will wear black patches in honor of a man Utah athletic director Chris Hill remembered as a “basketball savant.’ Majerus died Saturday in Los Angeles while awaiting a heart transplant. He was 64.

“To retire his jersey and put a No. 1 up there, it just doesn’t make any sense,” Hill said Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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