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Syracuse 62, Eastern Michigan 47: Orange win on career night from Chukwu

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The Eagles largely ignored Chukwu in their 2-3 zone and the big man finally made an opponent pay. Most impressive: 9-of-11 free throw shooting.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Michigan at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange bested the Eastern Michigan Eagles, 62-47 on Wednesday night, despite what was a rough first half in a cold Carrier Dome.

Syracuse’s locker room remained confident following its second loss of the season, another thrilling comeback that fell short against St. Bonaventure after the Georgetown run succeeded. Down as much as 13 against the Bonnies, the Orange tied the game with 11:45 of shutdown defense (save two points), but couldn’t score.

Scoring was an issue once again on Wednesday vs. EMU, but some of SU’s points came from an unlikely source. Paschal Chukwu scored a career-high 15 points, to pair with 12 rebounds and five blocks to power the Orange to a victory capping non-conference play at 11-2.

Chukwu entered 13-of-27 at the line. Tonight, he would sink 9-of-11.

As the Eagles ignored him underneath, Chukwu caught a pass from Marek Dolezaj in the high post through Eastern Michigan’s 2-3 zone. The Eagles were intent on fouling him, he hit his free throws, this time they couldn’t. He dunked his 13th points through the rim, and secured a career high to put the Orange up 10.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Michigan at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Eastern Michigan rolled through the Carrier Dome, and offense initially sunk lower. A 24 percent first half from the field, three-point shooting maintaining at 17 percent, including eight straight misses opened the game.

Five minutes in, still steering away from a banged up Bourama Sidibe, Jim Boeheim courted Marek Dolezaj and Matthew Moyer, and the Eagles bruised SU inside. James Thomson backed his way in front of Dolezaj for two, then caught Paul Jackson’s airball and cleaned it up for two more.

The Orange followed with free throws to stay competitive, with unlikely makes courtesy of Chukwu. Oshae Brissett hit one of his first two attempts in the early minutes, followed by two makes from Tyus Battle. Chukwu hit four straight of his own to break a five minute Syracuse scoring drought.

Chukwu, after a 6-of-16 start in the season from the line, had 13 of his next 18. He propelled the Orange within 18-17. Frank Howard helped too, following up an early three-point make with a steal and run for another three, spotting up on the run at the top of the arc. While the rest of the team settled for 0-of-7 outside, he made 3-of-6.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Michigan at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Eastern Michigan embarked on a defensive strategy of not covering Chukwu underneath, quickly adjusting to fouling him when Syracuse’s guards found him. Howard hit him underneath for two, which he finished with three minutes remaining. Soon after, Howard Washington entered for a sequence of small ball and found Chukwu underneath with a no-look pass. The Eagles fouled him this time, and he hit one of two.

But Syracuse only hit five shots from the field in the first half, and couldn’t extend the lead as their defense could have allowed. Up 24-22, forcing Tim Bond to miss a final possession three, Elijiah Minnie tipped the miss back at the buzzer to tie the game.

The Orange showed more offensive prowess out of halftime. Brissett set the stage with two free throws, before Howard caught two passes for a layup and three. After a short 0-of-5 stretch by the offense, Battle unloaded eight straight points with three makes.

With the offensive surge came a defensive retraction, Minnie converted three straight attempts of his own around a Jackson layup for eight straight Eastern Michigan points. Thompson followed Battle’s fourth straight make with a put-back, keeping pace at 43-38.

NCAA Basketball: Colgate at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Within two, Thomson grabbed Chukwu as he hauled in his seventh rebound in front of him. The hack-a-Chukwu plan proved futile again: splash, splash. Thomson picked up his fourth foul next possession, this time Chukwu missed his free throw but within two minutes he’d elevate to 10 rebounds. Stuffing Minnie’s layup attempt with under eight minutes remaining for his fifth block.

He kept rolling, a catch and dunk underneath put the Orange up 53-42. On the defensive end he redirected Jackson’s layup attempt inside, setting Battle up for two more on the run. Battle drained a three on the right wing, reaching 16 second-half points after a six point first. Chukwu’s momentum proved enough to energize him as well.

Chukwu’s night ended in pain, holding his right hip and heading to the bench with under one minute left, but his impact on the interior finally opened up an offense that was boxed in for three halves. With luck the ding won’t mean much come SU’s next contest, especially given how thin Syracuse is on the depth chart already.