SYRACUSE, N.Y. — As the start of a new era under head coach Adrian Autry, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (1-0) came out Red hot before settling into a back and forth affair, eventually winning over the New Hampshire Wildcats (0-1) by a final score of 83-72. It was the first ever meeting between the two programs. Both Autry and Nathan Davis are first-year head coaches.
Syracuse was without junior forward Benny Williams, who remained suspended for a violation of team rules. He wasn’t in attendance at the JMA Wireless Dome. Justin Taylor made his third career start at Syracuse in his place along with Judah Mintz, JJ Starling, Chris Bell and Naheem McLeod.
On a night with former Syracuse stars John Wallace and Lawrence Moten in attendance — two guys who have their jerseys hanging next to each other in the rafters — Syracuse came away with the victory in its throwback script uniforms behind 20 points behind its star player Mintz.
McLeod officially started the season with the first bucket, an inside score with his opposite hand. Maliq Brown replaced him shortly after as the first player off the bench. Quadir Copeland was second, who replaced Taylor. Syracuse jumped out to a 17-4 lead at the first media timeout with a 9-0 fastbreak edge behind three steals.
Kyle Cuffe was inserted into the game at the 13:47 mark, replacing Bell. Shortly after a Mintz steal, Copeland came up with a loose ball and passed ahead to Mintz, who promptly shuffled a pass back to Copeland who finished with a slam, forcing a New Hampshire timeout. On the other side of the timeout, Copeland rebounded a miss on the ensuing play and hit Cuffe in transition for a pull-up two. The Orange led 23-6 at the second media timeout. Peter Carey checked in at the 11:47 mark.
Out of the media timeout, Starling found Carey for a lob and a dunk and the Baldwinsville native let out a scream as he went the other way. With Mintz taking a quick breather, Starling assumed the point guard responsibilities. Syracuse mixed in the classic 2-3 zone defense that gave the program an identity. The zone came mostly on out of bounds defensive sets to start before switching to the defense sporadically toward the end of the first half when McLeod was back in at center.
Syracuse led by as many as 23 but a lull in the action allowed the Wildcats to go on a 13-4 run starting around the eight minute mark. Syracuse came out firing, but settled into a sluggish stretch, particularly on the defensive end. The Wildcats cut the lead to 14 with four minutes left in the first half behind senior forward Clarence Daniels, who was effective inside against Syracuse’s younger guards. After a missed rebound, Autry sent Brown, Cuffe and Copeland to the scorer’s table.
In attempt to up the tempo, Syracuse showed press with 3:15 remaining but only to give up a corner three. That was enough to end Syracuse’s pressure. Then Mintz picked up his third foul with over two minutes remaining. Cuffe missed a follow up dunk, but tipped in his own miss and Copeland finished inside to boost the lead back to 15.
But New Hampshire’s Daniels hit from and three and scored inside before the half to bring his total to 15. Starling hit two free throws prior to Daniel’s last bucket and Syracuse went into the break holding onto a 44-32 lead.
Mintz started with his three fouls out of the half and it wouldn’t take long before he picked up his fourth. Copeland replaced him less than three minutes in. During that time, New Hampshire’s Daniels scored twice while Taylor and Starling scored for the Orange and Taylor picked up his third foul shortly thereafter.
Daniels, happy to play along, then picked up his third foul for New Hampshire just before the 16-minute mark. Then Jaxson Baker connected on a triple, forcing Autry to call timeout.
From there Copeland picked up a key rebound and hit Cuffe ahead in transition for a corner three to bring the Syracuse lead back to nine. Then, Copeland came away with a steal and was fouled. He hit both from the line, making the score 56-45. Taylor ripped the chords on a three and was fouled. He completed a four-point play to bring Syracuse’s lead back to 12 with 11:46 to go. Then Daniels picked up his fourth foul after struggling to box out a hustling Copeland. The Wildcats responded with a pair of free throws and a triple, but Taylor hit another three, then found Brown in transition on a sweet bounce pass to up the Orange lead back to a dozen with less than ten minutes to go.
The Wildcats kept it close the rest of the way. Mintz returned for Syracuse with 9:25 left and Autry went 2-3 zone to protect his four fouls. Later, Taylor drove on Daniels, who was whistled for his fifth foul with 7:05 remaining. He finished his night with 21 points and 7 rebounds.
New Hampshire stayed within striking distance down the stretch, but never cut the lead to two possessions. Cuffe fouled out the game late on a charge attempt that was whistled a block, a call that the dome crowd vehemently disagreed with in the form of audible boos.
Still, Syracuse was able to keep the Wildcats at bay in the closing minutes. Copeland scored the game’s final bucket to give himself a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Mintz led Syracuse with 20 points while Taylor had 14 points and 6 rebounds. Starling contributed 10 points and 5 rebounds in his Syracuse debut. Brown had 10 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals.
Syracuse returns home on Wednesday to take on Canisius from the JMA Wireless Dome. That game tips at 7 p.m. and streams on ESPN+ and ACCNX.