You could say Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim just was being gracious in the wake of the No. 2 Orange's 95-70 victory over St. John's Saturday afternoon at Madison Sqaure Garden when he heaped praise on the performance of a team that relies on five freshman and a junior college transfer in a seven-man rotation. But appreciates a good coaching job when he sees one, and assistant Mike Dunlap has performed well whil subbing for Steve Lavin as he recovers from prostate cancer.
"I've been impressed with how well St. John's has played with so many young guys," Boeheim said. "I think it's very difficult to do that, and I think they've been very good."
After tying former North Carolina coach Dean Smith with 879 career victories, Boeheim (pictured) expressed pleasure with the job his team in outrebounding the Red Storm, 42-31, a stat that was at the root of the blowout. "St. John's is not big, and that helps," Boeheim allowed.
He knew his players could focus much of their defensive attention on D'Angelo Harrison and Moe Harkless, limiting them to a combined 15 first-half points before the Orange opened up a 28-point second half lead. "We did a good job on Harrison for a long time, but when we didn't find him, he scored [17 second-half points]," Boeheim said. "Harkless is a tremendous player.
"I don't know how you can do what they've done with five freshmen. I think it's extraordinary that they've been able to play the way they have to win at Cincinnati, come back like that at Duke [cutting a 22-point deficit to four], beating West Virginia. What they've done is extraordinary to me. They looked young today in a couple of spots when we got going."
Dunlap identified rebounding as the primary problem, but he also noted the advantage Syracuse had with its experience on the perimeter with vets Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche. Then, the Orange came off the bench with sophs Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair and freshman Michael Carter-Williams. Dunlap said they took good shots, and they knew how to leak out and turn rebounds into transition points.
Even when Syracuse had to play in its half-court offense, Boeheim said, "In the second half, we passed the ball really well. That's what impressed me is how easy we got open."
That wasn't a knock on St. John's, which clearly was outmanned, as much as praise for the way his players executed. Traditionally, Boeheim likes to shorten his rotation to about eight players, but he's gone with 10 much of this season because of the depth of talent at his disposal.
"We've never played 10 before," Boeheim said. "I can't usually keep track of that many. It's difficult for me."
To which Lavin, Dunlap and the rest of the St. John's coaching staff only can say, "We should have it so good." That's the goal, anyway. Put one more good recruiting class, preferably with some serious height, together with the current crop, and the Red Storm might be on their way to competing with the giants of college basketball.