Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said he was worried about facing a team coached by one of his former assistants and that employs his signature zone defense. Jerami Grant helped ease those nerves in a hurry.
Making his first start of the season and 10th of his career, the sophomore forward scored 11 points in the first seven minutes as the No. 2 Orange built an early 20-point lead and beat Eastern Michigan, 70-48, on Tuesday in the final non-conference game for both teams.
It was a far cry from Saturday, when Syracuse trailed then-No. 8 Villanova, 25-7, before rallying for a 78-62 victory.
“We just wanted to come out and be aggressive,” said Grant, who started in place of injured Dajuan Coleman and finished with 15 points. “We didn’t want to let them get to a big lead like we did against Villanova. We just came out aggressive, but we kind of let up after that.”
Syracuse (13-0), one of seven unbeaten teams in Division I, has won 51 straight non-conference games in the Carrier Dome and begins its first season of play in the Atlantic Coast Conference at home against Miami on Saturday.
“We really have come through this first 13 games as well as you could ever hope for,” Boeheim said. “We played some really good teams. It’s ironic the one game we could have lost was St. Francis. We’ve put ourselves in the best position we could possibly put ourselves in.”
Rakeem Christmas matched his career high with 15 points, C.J. Fair finished with 13 points and eight rebounds and Trevor Cooney had 10 points for the Orange. Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis matched his season high with nine assists to go with two turnovers and pulled down five rebounds, but did not score.
Glenn Bryant led Eastern Michigan (7-5) with 19 points and eight rebounds, and Raven Lee had 12 points. Leading scorer Karrington Ward had five points, 10 below his average, on 2-for-10 shooting. Former Syracuse center Da’Shonte Riley, a 7-footer, was a non-factor, failing to score or snare a rebound in 15 minutes of play.
The Orange put together a 19-4 spurt as the Eagles sputtered mightily, making just three of their first 16 shots and committing eight turnovers in the opening 12 minutes.
“I knew with Jerami starting, it makes them better offensively,” Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy said. “He was able to get into the high post and create some havoc. When we figured that out, it was a game.”