SYRACUSE -- Norm Roberts told his eight freshmen after the game, "Welcome to the Big East." But Anthony Mason Jr. was far from satisfied with a 76-70 St. John's loss to Syracuse on Wednesday night at the Carrier Dome. Even with 17,487 screaming fans, most clad in orange, cheering against the Red Storm.
"It ain't nothing to be proud of," said Mason, a junior. "Not for me. I expected us to win. You don't go out to play for your pride. You go out to win."
And St. John's, which played long stretches with five freshmen on the floor, had the opportunity to do just that. The Johnnies got it to within 50-48 with 11:59 left in the game and again within 58-55 with 8:17 left in the hostile conditions -- clearly the toughest their freshman have seen -- but were not able to get over the hump.
An alley-oop from two of Syracuse's freshmen -- Scoop Jardine to Donte Green (22 points) -- put the Orange up, 72-61, with 3:08 left, effectively stomping out any hope of a St. John's comeback.
"We just needed to make a big shot," Roberts said.
It never came. Syracuse played long stretches of the second half without Green and St. John's did the same without Mason. Both players were in foul trouble. With the perimeter scorers on the bench, the game came down to getting the ball inside, which the Orange, who start three freshmen, did effectively and the Red Storm did not.
Syracuse junior center Arinze Onuaku had 23 points and 13 rebounds -- 14 and 9 of those, respectively, came after halftime. On the other hand, St. John's freshman forward Justin Burrell (21 points) had only seven points in the second half.
"Coach Boeheim knows what he's doing," said Burrell, who also had 12 rebounds. "He set up the defense to protect the post area. We weren't able to execute our adjustments."
St. John's, overall, had a difficult time guarding Onuaku inside. The 6-foot-9, 258-pounder was able to finish with both hands, seemingly at will.
"He's a great player," Burrell said. "He's extremely, extremely strong."
Added Roberts: "He's a beast. He's an NBA player."
In the first half, St. John's (6-6, 0-1 Big East) went down, 24-10, to Syracuse (11-3, 1-0), but was able to battle back. An 18-6 run was enough to get the Red Storm within two points, but they just couldn't tie or take the lead. It ended up being the story of the game.
But, because of the conditions, it was that ability to come back and stay in the game after the Orange's initial run that impressed Roberts.
"I was very proud of my freshmen," the fourth-year coach said. "I thought they really battled and tried hard."
St. John's senior Eugene Lawrence had seven points and five assists with no turnovers, but was 1-of-7 from the field. Freshman D.J. Kennedy had seven points and eight rebounds and sophomore Larry Wright had nine points in only seven minutes. For Syracuse, Jonny Flynn added 14 points.
The Red Storm host Cincinnati, which beat Louisville on Tuesday, on Saturday at Carnesecca Arena before another major test: playing Connecticut in Storrs next Tuesday.
"Every game is a war," Roberts said. "It just keeps coming, but that's why our young guys came to St. John's."