BUFFALO - Consider Syracuse's 79-56 NCAA Tournament first-round victory over Vermont at the HSBC Center akin to a test run in a stock car with a new setup. Playing without injured center Arinze Onuaku, the Orange went with a small lineup as coach Jim Boeheim basically reduced his playing rotation to Six and a Half Men.
Replacing Onuaku in the starting lineup was shooting guard Kris Joseph, whose older brother Maurice started for the Catamounts (25-10). Because sixth man Scoop Jardine also is a guard, the only size on the floor most of the time was 6-7 small forward Wes Johnson and 6-9 power forward Rick Jackson. The "half-man" was 7-foot freshman backup center DaShonte Riley, who saw all of three minutes playing time in the first half and another three in the second half, providing scant rest for the regulars.
Johnson led Syracuse (29-4) with 18 points. Jardine had 14, Jackson 12, Andy Rautins 11 and Brandon Triche 10. Vermont's Marqus Blakely had 17 points, nine rebounds and four steals, and Evan Fjeld added 13 points and nine boards.
Not surprisingly, Syracuse was dominant from the start, running up a 35-11 lead with just over five minutes left in the first half. The Orange's size advantage was reflected in a 5-0 margin in blocked shots. Syracuse had a 20-16 first-half lead in rebounding and shot 48.4 percent to 29.4 percent for the Catamounts.
But maybe a little complacency set in. Suddenly, it was the vociferous Vermont cheering section that was roaring as the Catamounts put together a shocking 14-2 run that narrowed Syracuse's halftime lead to 37-25.
But when the second half began, the Orange got serious. Rautins buried two three-pointers and Triche added two more in a 14-7 surge that pushed Syracuse's lead back up to 51-32. America East champion Vermont never threatened again.