Syracuse and Memphis have a very short history in head-to --head basketball meetings, with the Orange holding a 2-1 edge. Unlike recent years, the Tigers were unranked this season, not regarded as a perennial power despite only losing twice by a combined 10 points to nationally Kansas, Massachusetts and Tennessee.
At the Carrier Dome Wednesday night, SU struggled in front of 17, 805 spectators but still beat Memphis, its last non-conference opponent of the season, by a score of 74-57.
For no. 7 SU, who had dropped its first game of the season to Pittsburgh on Jan. 2, the key to victory was balanced scoring and a tenacious, hyperactive 2-3 zone defense. The Orange held the 25 second-half points and outrebounded them 36-24.
Nevertheless, the win did not suit head coach Jim Boeheim, who was disappointed in his team's overall performance.
A stunned Boeheim stood on the sidelines and saw 17 turnovers most of which were due to carelessness. He also witnessed defensive breakdowns, allowing Robert Sallie to shoot wide open 3-pointers that kept the Tigers alive in the first 20 minutes of the game.
"It was hard to explain how poorly we played tonight," Boeheim said. "We won the game. I really don't care about that. We were just very poor."
SU still had five players who scored in double figures. Wesley Johnson led all scorers, contributing 19 points and seven rebounds. Kris Joseph gave 25 productive minutes, resuscitating the Orange's stagnant offense adding 15 points and nine rebounds. Joseph overcame foul trouble with a strong second half performance.
Arinze Onuaku delivered 10 points and gathered seven rebounds. Onuaku was also a strong force on defense, adding to the Tigers' misery while generating scoring opportunities. Rick Jackson chipped in with 10 points and also collected seven rebounds. Both missed several easy lay-ups that could have given SU a comfortable lead.