SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Rick Jackson knew his last game in the Carrier Dome would be unforgettable before it even started. His teammates wore navy blue shirts in pregame warmups with his No. 00 on the back encircled by their numbers and names, and “thanks for the memories” printed across the front.
Jackson didn’t get his 18th double-double of the season Saturday, but he did OK with 14 points, seven rebounds and four blocks as No. 12 Syracuse overwhelmed DePaul 107-59, the most lopsided game in Big East history. Louisville beat DePaul by 45 points two years ago, a year after Connecticut humbled Cincinnati by the same margin.
“I wanted to get this win,” said Jackson, the lone senior on the team. “My guys got it. I think this game is going to help our confidence.”
It was the fifth straight win for Syracuse (25-6, 12-6 Big East) after a midseason swoon in which the Orange lost four straight and six of eight after an 18-0 start. Syracuse also clinched a double-bye in next week’s Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.
“That was great. That’s what Rick told us,” said Jackson’s Philadelphia buddy, Orange point guard Scoop Jardine. “We asked him, ‘What do you want from us since this is your last game?’ He said, ‘I just want to win.’
“Our team, we’re really happy because we went out there and played hard for him.”
DePaul (7-23, 1-17) has won only two regular-season conference games in the past three years, and its chances of adding another were dim at best without standout freshman forward Cleveland Melvin, the team’s leading scorer with a 17.4 average in Big East play. Melvin’s season ended with sprained left thumb suffered against St. John’s 11 days ago.
Even with Melvin, it probably wouldn’t have mattered much. Syracuse shot 70.6 percent (24 of 34) in the first half, hitting 4 of 5 from beyond the arc, and held the undermanned Blue Demons to 12 of 30 shooting, 3 of 11 from 3-point range.
“I thought Syracuse came out and did what they needed to do on senior day,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. “They came out and played with a lot of spirit, a lot of energy. They made shots and got away from us early.”
Syracuse finished 45 of 63 from the floor, a season-best 71.4 percent, outrebounded DePaul 39-22, and scored 41 fast-break points.
Jardine had 14 points and eight assists, and three of Syracuse’s four freshmen shined: Dion Waiters had 12 points, C.J. Fair had 11 points, and 7-foot center Fab Melo was 5 for 5 shooting for 10 points, a season high, and six rebounds in 16 minutes, the most he’s played since Dec. 20.
Tony Freeland led DePaul with 25 points and six rebounds, and Moses Morgan had 16 points.
After Krys Faber hit a hook in the lane to give DePaul a 2-0 lead, Syracuse responded with an 11-0 run sparked by Jardine and Jackson. Jardine started it with a 3-pointer from the wing, fed Jackson for a hook, and finished it with a pull-up jumper.
DePaul didn’t get its second basket until Faber hit another hook at 14:20, and after Freeland’s floater in the lane moved the Blue Demons within 21-10 with 9:56 left in the half, James Southerland swished a 3 after a timeout to start a 17-2 spurt that put the Orange in complete command.
A month ago Syracuse’s zone defense was being beaten regularly, the Orange were barely above .500 in the conference, and the hometown fans began wondering if Syracuse might have to sweat making the NCAA tournament.
“We’re overall doing a better job than we were doing,” Jackson said. “I think (when we were losing) we were playing like we were cool. Now, guys don’t want to lose. We’ve got our hard hats on.”
The smaller Blue Demons found few openings in the zone on this day, and when they did get the ball inside there usually was no place to turn. Their frustration peaked when Freeland threw Dion Waiters to the floor trying to force a jump ball while DePaul was pressing with just over 5 minutes left. Seconds later, Mookie Jones fed Melo for a lay-in and a 42-15 lead.
“It’s really tough,” Freeland said. “They have one of the best crowds in the Big East on their senior night, so everybody was pumped. They were really fired-up. Everything they threw up went in.”
When the Orange retreated to the locker room at halftime, they led 57-28 and all 10 players who saw action had scored.
Even the reserves stoked the crowd of 28,086 in the waning minutes of the game as former walk-on Brandon Reese, playing in just his ninth game this season, set up Southerland for a pretty alley-oop dunk and seconds later hit Fair in full stride for another dunk that Fair converted into a three-point play with 3:35 left for a 101-51 lead.
Three seconds later, Jackson, one of just five players in program history to record 1,000 points, 800 rebounds, and 200 blocks, departed to a standing ovation, giving head coach Jim Boeheim a big hug as he went to the bench.
“This was one of those games where everything went right, everything we tried worked, every shot went in,” Boeheim said. “That just happens once in a while. From 7-6, to get to 12-6 in this league is a tremendous accomplishment for these players. I think we go to New York with a lot of momentum.”