Though unblemished, the Syracuse men's basketball team still had plenty of critics (Jim Boeheim among them) entering its toughest test of the young season.
But the Orange silenced those critics and earned a signature victory, defeating no. 8 Michigan State Spartans in a convincing 72-58 decision last Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic.
Michigan State carries with it an impressive NCAA Tournament resume, achieving six Final Four appearances in the last 12 years under coach Tom Izzo.
But it didn't matter on this night. En-route to victory, SU forced 17 Spartan turnovers and out-rebounded them 38-30. Michigan State, which had been making 43 percent of its 3-pointers for the season, made just seven of their 24 attempts against the Orange.
Even as its perimeter struggles continued (two for 11 from 3-point land), SU was still efficient shooting at 44.4 percent overall, and it also proved unselfish, getting 20 assists.
Rick Jackson and Scoop Jardine led the way. Jackson delivered his seventh double-double in an eight-game span, matching his career high with 17 points and 16 rebounds on eight-for-15 shooting. Jackson, combined with Bye Moussa Keita, was outstanding on defense, too.
Jardine added 19 points, six assists and four steals on a more pleasant seven-for-9 shooting. On defense, he cut off Spartan interior passes and created steals in the crucial stages.
Kris Joseph found other ways to score, as he gave the Orange 14 points, mostly by hitting eight of nine free throws. Brandon Triche delivered eight points, five assists and four steals while playing a significant role assisting the defense.
In the first half, the Spartans' offense rolled early, with a Corey Luscious 3-pointer and Draymond Green also converting.
From there though, the Orange took over, relentlessly driving to the basket and getting easy inside looks that led to