SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Jim Boeheim achieved another milestone in his impressive career at Syracuse, and yet passing Bob Knight for second place all-time on the victory list almost seemed like an afterthought.
“I’m proud to be able to do that. I’m happy to get it done,” Boeheim said after his seventh-ranked Orange had defeated Rutgers 78-53 on Wednesday night for his 903rd victory, one more than Knight among men’s Division I coaches. “To me, this game is not about numbers, it really isn’t. It’s not about how many points you score or the assists you get. It’s about all the people, all the people you meet on the way. It’s been an unbelievable experience.”
Boeheim, in his 37th season at his alma mater, trails only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who has 940 victories, and he was more touched by the phone calls and letters than anything else.
“I got a call from (former St. John’s star) Chris Mullin, I think after 900,” Boeheim said. “That call meant as much to me as anything because he’s the best player, you could argue, who’s played in this league. And I got a note from (Butler) coach Brad Stevens, which is interesting because I’m probably his biggest fan. He just thanked me for my contributions to the game.
“If a young coach thinks that way about me, then I’m really happy. That’s what I’m really proud about.”
Boeheim was also proud of the way Syracuse (13-1, 1-0 Big East) performed en route to its 33rd straight home victory, the longest active streak in the nation. The Orange have beaten Rutgers (9-3, 0-1) 13 straight times.
Brandon Triche had a season-high 25 points, hitting 5 of 7 3-point attempts, and added six assists and four steals to lead Syracuse. Michael Carter-Williams finished with 12 points and 10 assists, his eighth double-double, and C.J. Fair had 15 points and three blocks.
Eli Carter led Rutgers with 19 points while Myles Mack, who entered the game averaging 14.5 points, did not score and was 0 of 3 from behind the arc. He entered the game leading the Big East at 51.2 percent from 3-point range.
The Scarlet Knights had won five straight but were no match for Syracuse in coach Mike Rice’s first game back after a three-game, 16-day suspension for inappropriate behavior and language. Rutgers went 3-0 under associate head coach David Cox, capped by a 68-56 win over Rider on Friday.
Rice was suspended without pay and fined $50,000 on Dec. 13 for a violation of athletic department policy. Rice, 43, who returned to the team on Saturday, is in his third season at Rutgers. A former guard at Fordham, Rice came to Rutgers from Robert Morris, where he took the Colonials to the NCAA tournament twice.
Rutgers has defeated three top 10 teams at home under Rice, but the program has never accomplished the feat on the road. Syracuse won the game with a 21-0 run over the final 6:42 of the first half to break open what had been a tight affair.
Rutgers committed 10 turnovers in each half and was outscored 20-7 on the fast break.
“We’re really good when we’re scoring and things are going our way,” Rice said. “The team response — we lacked the energy, we lacked the toughness. In this league, bad things are going to happen, whether it’s missed shots or turnovers, which we really couldn’t have against Syracuse, but we had them.
“How are you going to respond defensively? That’s what limits their runs, and our defense was a no-show after we stopped scoring.”
Carter’s runner in the lane at 8:07 gave Rutgers its only lead at 20-18. It was the final basket of the period for the Scarlet Knights. They missed seven shots, committed three fouls and had two shots blocked as the Orange ran away.
Fair followed his own miss to start the Orange surge and consecutive baskets by Carter-Williams, the second a pretty underhanded scoop with reverse spin, gave Syracuse an eight-point lead.
Triche’s fast-break layup after a block by Fair and a bank shot off the glass by Rakeem Christmas kept the Orange rolling, and James Southerland’s transition 3 made it 35-20 with 2:22 to play.
“It did snowball,” said Austin Johnson, who had six points and four rebounds for the Scarlet Knights. “It’s a tough place to play. We just have to remain confident and do what we know we’re capable of out there. If we do that, we can compete with anybody. Tonight was definitely a clunker.”
Triche’s lob to Southerland completed the run as Syracuse finished the half 14 of 29 (48.3 percent) from the field while holding Rutgers to 8 of 29 (27.6 percent). About the only mistake the Orange made was Christmas’s turnover out of bounds in the final seconds as Syracuse tried to hold for the final shot.
At the outset, the game had the makings of a barnburner. Triche hit three 3-pointers in the first 6 minutes of play, all off assists by Carter-Williams as the Orange gained an early lead. But Carter kept pace with three 3s and another 3 from the wing by Jerome Seagears tied it at 16.
The score was tied four times before Syracuse took control.
“We were playing really well and we were down two,” Boeheim said. “I was getting ready for it to be a battle right down to the end, so I’m shocked at what happened during that period of time. We were playing well. Then we started playing even better.”
Both teams are leaving the conference, Syracuse after the season for the Atlantic Coast Conference and Rutgers for the Big Ten at a date that’s still to be determined.