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Orange digs deep for win


SYRACUSE — Playing short-handed without one of its top scorers, and in an offensive slump the last two games, Syracuse was desperately looking for a spark on Saturday.

Enter freshman forward Jerami Grant and a couple of other inexperienced players in sophomore guard Trevor Cooney and freshman center DaJuan Coleman. With senior super sub James Southerland unavailable due to eligibility issues, Grant scored a career-high 13 points, and the three youngsters combined for 25 overall, helping lead No. 7 SU to a 72-61 comeback victory over Villanova.

With a season-high crowd of 27,586 in the Carrier Dome looking on, the Orange (16-1 overall, 4-0 Big East) received 22 points from junior C. J. Fair and pulled away over the final 10 minutes to keep its nation’s best home win streak alive at 34 straight.

According to a university news release, the 6-foot-8 Southerland, who sat on the bench in street clothes, will not participate in competition until further notice. He ranks second on the team in scoring (13.6 ppg.) and is third in rebounding (5.2). He also led the team in 3-pointers made (33) and is SU’s best baseline defender.

So SU coach Jim Boeheim had to turn to his youngsters for valuable minutes and production without Southerland and leading scorer Brandon Triche, who was saddled with foul trouble.

“The freshmen won the game for us,’’ said Boeheim, who would not comment on why Southerland was forced to sit. “They’ve all played meaningful minutes, but I told them before the game they would play a key role today.’’

Cooney finally broke out in the second half in place of Triche, who was on the bench with four fouls. He knocked down a pair of big 3-pointers to cap off a 17-4 run that helped the Orange break away.

And Coleman asserted himself more underneath with six points and a fine defensive effort against Villanova’s big front line.

“The freshmen have worked hard in practice, and today took it to the court,’’ said Fair, who scored 16 second-half points, including 11 over the first six minutes. “Jerami was really strong at both ends. Trevor finally hit some shots, and DaJuan was really aggressive.’’

Grant entered the game with just over 14 minutes left in the first half and SU having scored just six points. He immediately scored on a put-back, added a follow-up dunk, a nice inside move and a free throw to help the Orange stay within 29-27 at halftime.

“It’s all about hustling, being aggressive and trying to make plays,’’ said Grant, who played a season-high 29 minutes. “Coach told me to be ready after we heard James couldn’t play. I admit I was a little nervous last night. But playing extra minutes really helped me get into a rhythm.’’

Said Boeheim: “Jerami was tremendous. He made some nice offensive moves.’’

Boeheim then went almost exclusively to Fair to begin the second half.

“Coach just kept calling my number,’’ said Fair, who finished 7 of 12 from the floor. “Without James, I knew I had to look for my shots more.’’

Still, Villanova (11-5, 2-1) hung around and trailed by only a point with 11 minutes remaining. That’s when Cooney played a pivotal role.

He had air-balled his only two 3-pointers of the first half, and missed a wide-open three in the second half. But after deflecting a Villanova pass, Cooney sprinted down court and buried a 3-pointer from the corner.

After another Wildcat turnover, he dialed in another three to give SU its biggest lead, 61-47, with 5:48 to play.

“We know he can make those shots,’’ Boeheim said of Cooney.

SU is now off until a big road game at Big East favorite Louisville next Saturday.

Cooney said shooters “always believe the next shot is going down. I was prepared to play more, and coach actually ran a few plays for me. I shot those last two in good rhythm.’’

While SU is struggling from the floor (11-for-52 on threes the last three games), the Orange is finding its stride at the foul line. SU was 24 of 30 Saturday, including 8 of 10 in the final 1 minutes, after a 17-for-18 performance at Providence.

“This was one of the grittiest, toughest wins we’ve had in awhile,’’ Boeheim said. “Our offense wasn’t going for long periods, but we really competed on defense (holding Villanova to 31 percent shooting) against a very physical team.’’

JayVaughn Pinkston led Villanova, which saw a seven-game win streak snapped, with 12 points, and Mouphtau Yarou added 11.

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