TAMPA — Florida coach Billy Donovan wasn't trying to undersell what his young team had accomplished to start the season, but he believed it could have been playing better.
And his Gators needed to do just that Thursday against Syracuse.
After dominating inside in the opening half, the Orange showed it can shoot the 3-pointer and get out in transition as it pulled away for an 85-73 win in a marquee matchup of Top 10 teams in the SEC-Big East Invitational before an announced crowd of 9,353 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"This was a great team for us to play against because they exposed a lot of things we've got to get better at," Donovan said.
The No. 7-ranked Orange (9-0), which began the year unranked but has beaten a trio of teams in the Associated Press poll, scored more points than any UF opponent — Michigan State put up 74 — on 52.5 percent shooting from the field, matching a season high by an opponent.
"Syracuse reminds me a lot of the team I had in 2005-2006 when we lost Anthony Roberson and David Lee and Matt Walsh, and I think our leading scorer coming back was Corey Brewer at seven points a game," Donovan said. "We weren't ranked, and we went on to win a national championship, and based on what I've seen of Syracuse, I think they are capable of winning a national championship. They have everything. They can beat you in a lot of different ways."
The No. 10 Gators (8-1) learned that.
Syracuse forward Rick Jackson scored 16 of his career-high 19 points in the first half as he grabbed seven of his team's 12 offensive rebounds. He had the signature play of the half when he grabbed an alley-oop pass from guard Brandon Triche and, with 1.7 seconds left, dunked for a 42-36 lead.
The Gators, who had trailed only once (Troy, 32-31) at halftime, fell behind 54-44 early in the second half and then rallied behind a barrage of 3-pointers.
Guard Kenny Boynton, who finished with a game-high 20 points, and guard Erving Walker (14 points) each hit a pair, then forward Chandler Parsons (19 points) hit one to give the Gators a 59-57 lead midway through the half.
But the Orange answered as guard Andy Rautins hit a contested 3-pointer. The team had been 1-of-10 on 3s at that point.
"I don't think we looked back from there," said Rautins, who had 18 points. Especially when forward Wes Johnson, the team's leading scorer who had struggled in the opening half (four of his 17 points), followed with his lone 3-pointer. The Gators got no closer than four from there.
"Florida's a really good team," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "They're a very good passing team. They have a lot of weapons. I think they're going to be a very good team."