On a night when the shots weren't falling early, top-ranked Syracuse unveiled one of its potent weapons — the press. Without star point guard Vince Council, Providence was no match.
Dion Waiters had 12 points, seven coming during a decisive first-half run spurred by that press, Scoop Jardine added 10 points and nine assists, and Syracuse beat undermanned Providence 78-55 on Saturday night to remain unbeaten.
"We had a slow first half offensively," said Kris Joseph, who led Syracuse with 13 points. "But I think the last six or seven minutes when we threw in the press ... that really turned things around for us going into halftime."
After two free throws by Henton moved Providence within 17-16 with 5:57 left in the first half, Syracuse put together one of the spurts that have made the Orange unbeatable this season, running off 15 straight points as the Friars self-destructed with six straight turnovers. They've also had a 23-point run and two 19-point runs.
"It starts with the guards and our intensity and getting our teammates involved," Jardine said.
Providence had 16 turnovers in the opening period and the Orange took advantage, scoring 16 points off the giveaways.
"We just try to get after it as much as we can," Waiters said. "We came out kind of sluggish. Our offense wasn't clicking, our defense wasn't. We just didn't have no enthusiasm, and when I came in the game I still didn't pick it up. We had to find somebody to get it going. I started it off by getting a steal. Everything else was history from there."
The victory for the Orange (19-0, 6-0 Big East) matches the school record for wins to start a season, set in 1999-2000. Syracuse will try to break the mark Monday night at home against Pittsburgh. The Panthers (11-7, 0-5) are the only winless team in the Big East after a 62-57 loss on Saturday at No. 25 Marquette — their sixth straight setback — but they've beaten Syracuse five straight times.
"We're just trying to get ready for the next game," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said after the 875th victory of his career moved him within one of Adolph Rupp for fourth place all-time in Division I. "Pitt's a good team. I don't care what their record is. They'll come in here and play well."
Kadeem Batts led Providence with 13 points, LaDontae Henton had 12 on 5-of-16 shooting and Gerard Coleman 11 on 4-of-14 from the field.
The Friars (12-7, 1-5) were coming off a surprising 90-59 win over No. 14 Louisville, but they had to play Syracuse without junior guard Vince Council, their leading scorer and playmaker. Head coach Ed Cooley suspended him for the game.
"From an accountability standpoint, if I'm going to build a program the right way it doesn't matter if you're our leading-minute guy, I want to build a program based on character and integrity," Cooley said afterward. "If you can't be a company guy and do things the right way, it doesn't matter who you are to me. I want to build a team where it's about trusting each other, and if you don't do that, you're not going to play."
Without Council, the Friars committed 22 turnovers, nine more than they had in the first meeting with the Orange — an 87-73 loss 10 days ago.
"We're limited with our personnel. When they pressed us, a lot of our warts came out — our inability to handle the ball," Cooley said. "Let's face it: they're the No. 1 team in the country for a reason."
Council, who had 15 points and 14 assists against Louisville — the most assists in a league game this season — has scored 20 or more points five times and is averaging 16.4 a game. He had 17 points and five assists in Providence's loss to Syracuse.
In that game, Providence stayed with Syracuse for most of the night and shot 48.9 percent, the second-highest Syracuse has allowed this season. The Friars also made six 3-pointers but were unable to overcome the hot-shooting Orange, who hit 19 of 26 (73.1 percent) shots in the second half, including 5 of 7 from beyond the arc.
The Orange didn't resemble that team on Saturday night and seemed ripe for an upset when they started sluggishly, missing their first nine 3-point attempts and going more than 5 minutes between baskets. After Baye Keita, Waiters and James Southerland missed three straight shots in a flurry under the Providence basket, the Friars tied it 12-all on Brice Kofane's turnaround jumper at the shot-clock buzzer.
Joseph started the decisive rush with a pretty no-look, over-the-shoulder pass to Jardine for a layup and Fair then stole the ball and fed Jardine for a fast-break layup. Waiters followed with a pull-up jumper in the lane, his first basket after two misses from long range, and Fair converted a short baseline jumper to boost the Syracuse lead to 25-16 with 3:38 left in the opening half.
Waiters then hit a 3 and a fall-away jumper, both from the right wing, and Joseph's two free throws made it 32-16 with 2:04 to go. Jardine's 3 at the first-half buzzer off a feed from Waiters gave Syracuse a commanding 38-21 lead at the break.
If the Friars had any hope of a rally, they had a much steeper climb than the first meeting, when they trailed 36-34 at halftime.
Syracuse made that thought moot when it began the second half with a 15-4 run as Jardine's play-making ability was on full display. He fed Fab Melo for a pair of slam dunks, passed to Joseph underneath for a reverse layup, and hit Rakeem Christmas for another dunk after Christmas made a block at the other end.
"As we came out in the second half, we had the same intensity," Joseph said. "This is the best we've done so far keeping the intensity, starting the second half with high intensity that we've done all year. I think that was a good step forward for us."
Syracuse has led every game at halftime. The closest games the Orange have had were a 69-63 triumph over Stanford at Madison Square Garden in the NIT Season Tip-off in late November and a 72-68 win over then-No. 10 Florida at home on Dec. 2, five days after associate head coach Bernie Fine was fired amid allegations of sexual abuse.