SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Syracuse defense didn’t rest on Monday, led by its big man who came up huge.
Paschal Chukwu, the Orange’s 7-2 junior center, had the best game of his career with 12 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocked shots to lead Syracuse to a 74-50 win over Oakland.
“Because his defense was so good inside, he (Chukwu) just changed the whole game,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He got some offensive things tonight and we looked for him a little better.”
“I have 40 years in the business and I don’t think I’ve seen arms that long,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said of Chukwu. “We can’t simulate that length in practice and I thought we got the ball in there and then we couldn’t do anything with him. I think that Syracuse has a little better team than people think they have because he is a factor, a big factor.”
Tyus Battle scored 25 points to lead Syracuse (4-0) for the fourth straight game, Frank Howard had a career-high 18, and Oshae Brissett had 11 and nine rebounds while Marek Dolezaj had eight boards.
On this night, though, the story wasn’t about who scored for Syracuse but who didn’t score for Oakland, which came into the game averaging 82 points per game this season. Syracuse held the Grizzlies to 31 percent shooting from the field on 18-of-59 shooting and 6 of 22 from 3-point range. The defense blocked 15 shots and forced 19 turnovers, and Syracuse capitalized with 23 points off the miscues.
“We’re always one of the top teams in the country in scoring,” Kampe said. “We led the nation two years ago. We’re always one of the top teams in the country in scoring. We scored 50 tonight. So you might have to say their defense was pretty good.”
Chukwu, who transferred from Providence and played just seven games last year because of season-ending eye issues, said he’s finally starting to figure things out, particularly on offense.
“I’m starting to figure out where my strong suit is, which is anything around the basket,” Chukwu said.
Syracuse also shut down the Grizzlies’ top two scorers. Kendrick Nunn, who had been averaging 28 points a game, was held to 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting, while Martez Walker, who had been scoring at 24.3 points a game clip, had 14 on 4 of 12 from the field.
“I think you have to give credit to Syracuse’s defense,” Kampe said. “I think it would be very wrong on my part to say they had bad nights. I think they got frustrated and whenever kids get frustrated that turns into a bad night.”
Syracuse led 51-41 with 9:24 to play and closed on a 23-9 run for the winning margin. Howard had 11 points in the run.
Syracuse went on a 16-2 run to take an 18-9 lead in the first half. The Golden Grizzlies (2-2) scored the next five, but Syracuse, fueled by Battle’s nine straight points, took a 29-18 lead. Battle scored 15 of his 16 first half points in 12 minutes. Syracuse led 39-25 at halftime.
Oakland: Things should get better for the Golden Grizzlies with the return of Jalen Hayes, who sat out the final game of his four-game suspension.
Syracuse: Syracuse received big lifts from Chukwu and Dolezaj. The Orange could surprise this year if those two continue to progress, along with freshman Brissett.
A GOOD SIGN
Syracuse’s win was its first against a team with a winning record.
Chukwu’s follow-up slam off his missed layup brought the Carrier Dome crowd to its feet.
Syracuse hit just 9 of 18 from the foul line.
Oakland doesn’t have much to be thankful for with its next game on the schedule – Friday at No. 3 Kansas.
Syracuse’s six-game season-opening home stand continues Wednesday against Toledo.