SYRACUSE It was a magical return for James Southerland, and a hard-earned victory for the Syracuse Orange.
With Southerland scoring 13 points in his return to the lineup following a six-game suspension, SU recorded a closer-than-it looked 77-58 Big East Conference victory over St. Johns before 27,169 at the Carrier Dome on Sunday afternoon.
C. J. Fair and Michael Carter-Williams led No. 9 SU (20-3 overall, 8-2 Big East) with 17 points each, and Brandon Triche added 16 as the Orange extended the nations longest, active home winning streak to 37 games.
The Orange also moved back into a first-place tie with Marquette with eight league games remaining.
While Southerland was sitting out for as still undisclosed academic reasons, SU was without one of its best long-range shooters and a tough inside defender and strong rebounder. His appeal was granted by the universitys academic hearing panel earlier Sunday.
With Southerland back, the Orange again looked like a team ready to make a long postseason run.
He gives us another weapon on the perimeter, a guy that can stretch the defense, said SU coach Jim Boeheim, who reached the 20-win plateau for the 35th time in his illustrious 37 seasons at the helm. To have a third forward, and an eighth guy is big for us. We got away with seven, but in the long run that would really be hard.
SU is also without starting center, freshman DaJuan Coleman, who underwent knee surgery last week and will be out for four weeks.
Syracuse, which has won 30 of its past 33 Big East games, beat the Red Storm for the eighth straight time, and has won 14 of 15 against the Johnnies. But it took a strong effort against St. Johns that had won six of its past seven games.
The Orange shot 54 percent from the floor, its best performance in conference play, hit 10 of 22 from 3-point range, the most in Big East action, and recorded 20 assists.
And they limited St. Johns to 42 percent shooting from the floor and only 5-for-22 on 3-pointers.
We were a lot more patient and ran our offense better today, said Carter-Williams, who had eight assists and six steals. Having James really helps because defenses cant collapse on me and Brandon, or double C.J. with him lurking on the wing.
A 13-2 run midway through the first half put SU ahead 23-10, and St. Johns (15-9, 7-5) never completely recovered.
A Triche 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds of the first half put the Orange on top 37-24 at intermission. And although the Red Storm cut the deficit to less than 10 points several times and to seven at one point, SU always had an answer.
Especially with Southerland on the court. In a two-minute stretch, he scored eight points on a pair of threes and a transition jam, and found Triche for a thundering dunk after leaping high to catch a full-court pass from Carter-Williams.
Nobody else could probably have caught that pass, said Triche, who dished out seven assists and grabbed five rebounds. But James is so athletic, and so experienced, he made it look easy.
Boeheim said his two guards had probably their most complete game of the season. They were really in control today, on offense and defense. And when they do that, it makes us just execute a lot smoother.
St. Johns, which was led by sensational freshman forward JaKarr Sampson with a game-high 21 points, was without head coach Steve Lavin. He was on his way back to New York City after his father, 82-year-old Cap Lavin, passed away Saturday night in the San Francisco area.
The second biggest Dome crowd of the season stood for a moment of pre-game silence in his memory.
St. Johns assistant coach Rico Hines said the Orange have so many answers. I thought we did a decent defensive job, but they have a lot of guys who can scored from a lot of different spots on the court. When they shoot like that from the perimeter against our zone, were in trouble.
SU heads to Connecticut for a Wednesday night game, then to Seton Hall on Saturday.