TAMPA — Syracuse and coach Jim Boeheim made their final trip to the Sun Dome as Big East members Sunday, and one thing USF won't miss is the Orange's signature stifling zone defense.
Playing to its first home sellout in 11 years, USF jumped out to a promising 17-7 lead against No. 7 Syracuse, but that defense clamped down at the end of both halves, allowing the Orange to pull away to a 55-44 win before a balanced crowd of 10,024.
"The offensive rebounds was just ridiculous. Their size, their quickness, their length, it gave them so many more opportunities than we had," coach Stan Heath said. "That was a huge difference in the game."
Syracuse (14-1, 2-0) held a 43-26 rebounding advantage, including 23-6 on the offensive boards, with USF (9-4, 0-1) getting 11 total rebounds from Victor Rudd but only 15 from the rest of the team.
"That's a tribute to the fact that we can't make a shot," Boeheim said of the offensive rebounding in his 904th career win. "I've never seen a worse offensive performance. I can't remember one."
Rudd gave USF hope early, hitting his first four shots, including three dunks, for a 10-point cushion that held up until Syracuse got its first lead with 3:26 left in the half. Syracuse's zone took away the baseline lob and altogether shut the Bulls down, holding them to one field goal in the final 11:32 of the half for a 30-23 lead at the break.
USF stayed close, trailing 47-42 with six minutes to play, and the Bulls had four consecutive possessions to cut the Orange lead only to muster three turnovers and a missed shot. Twice in the final four minutes, they couldn't manage a shot, losing the ball on shot-clock violations. Again, USF went more than eight minutes with just one field goal, its offense failing to capitalize on opportunities its defense created.
"Everybody's tall. They keep you out of the lane, and they do that very well," said USF point guard Anthony Collins, who had seven assists but was held to five points on 2-for-2 shooting.
Brandon Triche led the Orange with 20 points, while James Southerland added 17. Rudd led the Bulls with 15 points, moving into the team lead for scoring this season, but did so on 5-of-13 shooting, missing eight of his last nine shots. Jawanza Poland added 12.
The sellout was the first in the Sun Dome since the Bulls lost to Florida 92-73 in December 2001; it's the second sellout for USF basketball in the past 20 years.
Syracuse is headed to the ACC after this season; the Bulls now stay home for their second Big East game, an easier challenge against Villanova on Wednesday night.
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] and at (813) 226-3346.