SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Jim Boeheim used a man-to-man defense for most of Syracuse’s two exhibition games, and the Orange struggled a bit.
Fordham coach Tom Pecora expected to see Boeheim’s signature 2-3 zone in the season opener, and he got it. The Rams just couldn’t handle it.
Kris Joseph scored 16 points, Dion Waiters added 14 and No. 5 Syracuse cruised to a 78-53 victory Saturday.
With all those long arms waving, Fordham shot 34.6 percent (18 of 52), including 4 of 21 from beyond the arc.
“Defensively, you look at our zone, if all our hands are up and we’re moving like we’re supposed to, it’s a scary thing to go against,” Joseph said. “Our zone is our bread and butter. It’s always going to work well because we have big guards up top, our forwards and centers are pretty big, and we’re very mobile.”
Fordham was 7-21 last year and 1-15 in the Atlantic 10, going 17 straight games without a win despite the performance of Chris Gaston, who ranked fourth nationally with 11.3 rebounds per game and also averaged nearly 16 points.
Gaston is back, but the stronger Orange made it look easy Saturday.
The Rams went more than 11 minutes without a basket in the first half — from a fast-break layup by Branden Frazier at 17:56 to a tip by Gaston with 6:29 left. Syracuse led by as many as 18 points in the first half and broke open the game with a 15-5 run in the second.
“Their length and their ability to really take away space defensively made us struggle,” Pecora said. “We’re a good shooting team, but their ability to contest every 3-pointer was great. Their depth is outstanding.””
Gaston finished with 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting and had five rebounds.
“The perimeter guys did a really good job, and when they got inside, our big guys were there,” Boeheim said. “Gaston’s a very good player, and I think he’ll average 22 points per game. We just made it difficult for him to get decent shots in there.”
Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair had nine points apiece and Scoop Jardine and James Southerland each scored seven as Boeheim emptied his bench in the first meeting between the schools since Syracuse’s 80-63 victory four years ago.
Bryan Smith also had 13 points for the Rams. Frazier had nine points, three steals and three assists, and Kerwin Bristol had eight rebounds.
Syracuse freshman Rakeem Christmas made his first start in place of departed star Rick Jackson, who averaged 13.1 points, 10.3 rebounds and a team-high 35.6 minutes last season. Christmas had five points and six rebounds in 20 minutes.
Even when the Rams had open shots, they quickly vanished. When the 6-foot-10 Bristol went up for an easy shot with 2:36 left in the first half, Southerland soared high above and stuffed it, though he was called for a foul.
The Orange led 32-19 at the break after registering six blocks and making 5 of 11 3-pointers. Five players scored five points apiece in the period, with Jardine, Waiters, Joseph, Fair and Southerland each hitting one 3.
“When they shoot the ball like they did from the 3, it’s really tough,” Pecora said. “Initially, we said they were going to have to beat us over the top. We were hoping it would be a night where they were a little cold from there. They really shot the ball great, and then they did a great job getting 16 offensive rebounds.”
Syracuse put the game out of reach with that second-half spurt. Joseph hit a 3 from the left wing, Fair converted a miss by Joseph, and Waiters’ steal and fast-break dunk to cap the run, making it 51-28 with 12:49 left.
Waiters had two assists, no turnovers and one steal in 22 minutes. And the reserve ended his time on the floor with a flourish, scoring 11 points in a 5-minute span.
“He’s that type of player,” Joseph said. “There’s no question in my mind he could start anywhere in the country. He’s coming in and giving us positive minutes offensively and defensively. That’s what we’ll need him to do for the whole season. When he gets into that groove, there’s no taking him out of it.”