No. 2 Syracuse beats Rutgers 74-64
By JIM O'CONNELL
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) There's no list on any bulletin board designating which Syracuse player should be the one to make the big play.
The second-ranked Orange seem to be a team very comfortable with its depth and lack of star power and they looked that way in a 74-64 victory over Rutgers on Sunday.
It may have been the third close game for Syracuse in the last four, but they have all been wins and this one makes it seven straight since the only loss of the season - at Notre Dame.
"This team's made plays when games have been close late," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "Veteran guys make plays. Everybody's said all along `OK who's going to make plays?' We got a lot of guys who makes plays. I think that's going to be a good thing. It has been a good thing for us and that's why where we're at - different guys can make plays."
Jardine sat in front of his locker with a smile as he answered questions about the big shot, the one that made him the guy who made the big play.
"I've done that a couple of times in my career," he said with a wink. "It's doing what you know you should. I was driving all game so he was backing off me and I got some space and had the confidence to knock it in."
Fair had no problem with Jardine, who had seven assists, drawing the postgame attention.
"He made a couple of big shots," Fair said. "We really executed today."
Jardine had some high praise for Fair, whose previous career-high was 17 points against Rutgers last season.
"He's the guy you have to have if you're going to win a national championship," Jardine said of Fair, one of those exciting open-court players who isn't labeled with a position. "He can't be stopped and I know I'm always looking for him. He's been shooting the ball great."
The Orange (27-1, 14-1), who have seven players averaging between 14.0 and 7.0 points, improved their lead in the Big East standings to 2 1-2 games over No. 12 Marquette and No. 23 Notre Dame.
The Scarlet Knights (12-15, 4-10) had some success this season against some of the better teams in the country. They beat two Top Ten teams at home - Florida and Connecticut - and they were right there with the Orange, who have won 12 straight games in the series.
"I thought as far as the fight and the compete, this was probably one of the more consistent games we've played all month," Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. "We just didn't finish plays."
And Rice acknowledged that Syracuse has so many options.
"Their depth," he said. "You just don't know where it's coming from, you just don't know where you're getting hit at."
Gilvydas Biruta matched his career high with 21 points for Rutgers, which was within two points four times from the 8:45 mark until there was 3:08 to play.
The Scarlet Knights couldn't tie the game or take the lead on seven possessions with the two-point deficit.
The last time they got that close was 64-62 with 3:08 left.
"Our guys kept the fighter's mentality. They didn't back down," Rice said. "It wasn't a negative, frustrated reaction. I've been working on that, have an edge, have a passion but don't become frustrated. That's selfish and takes away your energy."
Jardine hit a jumper 25 seconds later to make it a four-point game. Rutgers turned the ball over and then got a break when Dion Waiters missed two free throws with 1:54 to go.
Eli Carter missed a 3-point attempt for Rutgers and after a timeout by Syracuse, Jardine drilled a 3 from the head of the key with 1:11 left and the Orange had a 69-62 lead.
Fair said the close games - a three-point overtime win over No. 10 Georgetown and a two-point win at No. 19 Louisville - have been good for the Orange.
"To tell you the truth it's always better to win close games," he said when asked about the difference of winning all those blowouts this season. "You get experience. You get momentum. You get confidence in case it occurs again."
Kris Joseph added 14 points for Syracuse, which was 24 for 48 from the field, including 5 of 12 on 3s. The Orange had a big advantage at the free throw line, going 21 of 31 to Rutgers' 9 of 11.
Mike Poole had 10 points - eight in the final 9:19 - for the Scarlet Knights, who shot 41.9 percent (26 for 62) but made just 3 of 18 3-point attempts. Rutgers has dropped five straight and seven of eight.
Syracuse closed the first half on an 8-2 run to take a 40-34 lead.
Biruta, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, came into the game averaging 9.3 points. He had that many 8 1-2 minutes into the game, taking advantage of moving the ball down low against Syracuse's famed 2-3 zone. He was 6 of 9 from the field for 14 points and had five of Rutgers' 17 rebounds as the Scarlet Knights managed a 17-13 advantage off the boards in the first half.
Biruta broke double figures just once in his last 12 games.
"The last couple of practices, we worked in zone and I made some calls and worked the defense better," Biruta said. "I think working the high post, that's what helped me."
Updated February 19, 2012