Tuesday, January 14, 2003

No. 25 Syracuse 76, No. 11 Missouri 69

The Associated Press

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - The Syracuse Orangemen were wondering when somebody would notice them. It's time. Only hours after making the national rankings for the first time this season at No. 25, Syracuse beat No. 11 Missouri 76-69 Monday night. It was the Orangemen's first win over a ranked team in more than two years and proved that they're a team to be feared.

"We had a lot of doubters out there, and I'm sure they're still out there saying it's just a fluke," said sophomore center Craig Forth, who had 11 points, five rebounds, four assists and three blocks. "I don't think so. We're a good team and we're stepping it up every night."

Since beginning the season with a loss to Memphis in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden, Syracuse has won 11 in a row - including Big East triumphs over Seton Hall and Boston College in the last six days. The Orangemen were more than ready for the Tigers (10-2), who had lost only to Illinois and had defeated Memphis 93-78 in mid-December.

"It was a big test for us," said freshman guard Gerry McNamara, who had 14 points and seven assists. "We want to know where we're at. Playing a team like Missouri really proved how good we are and how good we could be. I think we all were anxious to just get out there and play some high-quality teams."

All five Syracuse starters scored in double figures, with Hakim Warrick leading the way with 20 points. Freshman Carmelo Anthony had 16 points and 11 rebounds, his ninth double-double of the season, and Kueth Duany had 10 points.

But Syracuse has been plagued all season by a weak interior defense that even freshmen were manhandling with ease. BC's Craig Smith had 26 points and 10 rebounds Saturday night and Seton Hall's Kelly Whitney had 20 points and eight rebounds last Wednesday, and the Orangemen had to come from behind late to win in both games.

With 6-foot-9, 265-pound center Arthur Johnson and 6-9 forward Travon Bryant, the Tigers seemed poised to make the Orangemen's night miserable again under the basket. But Forth and backup center Jeremy McNeil finally gave Syracuse that missing element inside.

"Coach just really came out and challenged everyone that plays the bottom of the zone," said Warrick, who had six points to spark a 13-4 Syracuse run early in the second half. "We were just more active, made everything tough for them, didn't give them any easy looks."

Missouri shot 38 percent, well off its 48.3 mark entering the game and 12 points below its season average. The only other game this season where Missouri shot less than 40 percent was in the loss to Illinois. The Tigers also had a season-high 20 turnovers.

Ricky Clemons had 26 points and seven assists for Missouri. Johnson finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but was never a factor against Syracuse's 2-3 zone.

"We kind of shut Arthur Johnson down tonight," said Anthony, whose long 3-pointer capped a 10-0 run in a span of just 2:17 that gave Syracuse a 71-57 lead with 5:59 to play.

Warrick scored on a nice spin move with 10:58 left to give Syracuse a 61-48 lead. Missouri then went on a 9-0 run - with five players scoring - to get within 61-57 with 8:15 to play.

"I think we did a good job down low, but they were pretty tough," said Johnson, who was coming in off three straight double-doubles, including 30 points and 15 rebounds in the last game against Baylor. "They got some momentum on a couple of big plays."

One of the biggest occurred at the very end of the first half. After Johnson jammed in a layup past Forth to tie it at 31-all with 1:02 left, Anthony hit a jumper in the lane and Josh Pace converted a free throw to put Syracuse up by three.

Then, with just 2 seconds left, McNamara stole Jeffrey Ferguson's inbounds pass and calmly drained a shot at the buzzer from just inside the 3-point line.

"That one really hurt us," Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. "I thought we'd have a chance to go into the locker room with a one-point lead, and instead we go five down. That's a big turnaround."

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