All the innovation and boldness has begun to pay off for the Syracuse Orange.
The No. 22 Orange opened the game looking sharp, hitting 17 of their first 22 shots — and actually trailed by just four points in the first half of SU’s 92-84 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday.
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That lead would swell to 19 points midway through the second half.
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Syracuse’s guard combo of Tyus Battle and Frank Howard combined for 62 points (Howard finished with 33 and Battle 29), including seven three-pointers, and combined to hit 28 of 36 free throws.
The victory keeps Syracuse in position to play for the ACC Tournament championship on Monday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
But the game is less than halfway over. That final game is less than a month away, and many of the game’s stars are just stepping into their new roles this season.
Howard was the star of the Syracuse offense early, keeping Syracuse afloat with six first-half points, all on three-pointers.
As the teams traded baskets in the second half, Battle made a pair of straight jumpers, and a three-pointer, and Syracuse pulled back ahead 65-59.
Syracuse added another six points for a 78-68 lead before the Seminoles scored 14 consecutive points to pull within two, but then, down 92-84, the Orange scored the game’s final seven points.
Syracuse completed a three-game sweep of the season series against the Sun Devils. It earned the victory Saturday despite hitting just six three-pointers.
Trailing by as many as 10 points early in the second half, Arizona State closed to 59-55 with just more than 12 minutes to play. And, within two, the Seminoles were within two with just over five minutes to play.
But the Orangemen managed to earn their first conference road win of the season, keeping second-place Miami, which defeated Boston College earlier Saturday, in range.
If Syracuse advances, it will play third-place Virginia Tech in Monday’s finale, and the Hokies lead the league with a record of 12-3.
If Miami advances, it will play Duke in Monday’s tournament title game. The Blue Devils have the best winning percentage of any team in the tournament’s history, and have won their last two games to improve to 15-1.
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