Defensive stopper Rick Jackson scored a season-high 23 points, C.J. Fair added 14 and the third-seeded Orange began taking care of "unfinished business" in the NCAA tournament with a 77-60 win over Indiana State in a second-round game Friday night that carried into Saturday.
Syracuse (27-7) is intent on making up for last season's disappointing tourney appearance, when the Orange's title run as a No. 1 seed ended with a loss to upstart Butler in the round of 16. Jackson, the Big East's top defensive player, scored six straight during a crucial stretch in the second half when Syracuse finally pulled away from Indiana State (20-14).
"Once you get that first win, you're in your comfort zone and you start to play your basketball," Jackson said. "This is unfinished business. Once we get past this game, we're going to keep on trucking."
Syracuse will play Big East brethren Marquette on Sunday in a third-round game. The Golden Eagles won the regular-season matchup between the schools, 76-70 on Jan. 29
Jake Kelly scored 12 to lead the Sycamores, who got within four in the second half but had no answer inside for Jackson.
"He's an NBA-type player," Indiana State freshman guard Jake Odum said. "He's big. He's physical. And he can pass well along with that. We had to be careful when we chose to double or not. He's a great player."
Syracuse didn't finish its win until 12:41 a.m., and when it finally ended, the Orange had more to worry about than getting to bed.
With three minutes left, guard Scoop Jardine injured his left wrist in a hard fall. Jardine briefly remained in the game, but when he came back to the bench, the junior grimaced in pain when a trainer checked on him. Jardine walked to the postgame interview with his wrist wrapped in ice.
"It kind of went numb on me," he said. "I should be OK."
The sight of Jardine going down had to scare Orange fans.
Last year, a late-season injury to Arinze Onuaku sabotaged Syracuse's postseason plans, and the Orange can't be expected to go very far this March without Jardine, perhaps the club's most versatile player.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has been involved in 71 NCAA tournament games, but struggled to remember one with such a late opening tip or early-morning completion.
"It's pretty tough. I think the players are fine. It's me," cracked the 66-year-old, who had his team practice at 10 p.m. earlier this week to be ready. "It's late. But I think the players are OK with it. I don't think we've got too many guys go to bed at 9 o'clock. Indiana State, they may have a couple, but I don't think we've got too many guys who go to bed early.
"It's just part of the tournament. When you're in the tournament, you should be happy. I'm happy we're still in the tournament."
Although lacking in size, Indiana State went toe to toe with Syracuse for much of the night, and with 15 minutes left, the Sycamores of Larry Bird's alma mater were within 42-38.
But they began turning the ball over and Syracuse re-established its inside game by going to Jackson, who was fouled underneath on consecutive trips and made four straight free throws. After Indiana State was called for a charge, Jackson's dunk put the Orange ahead 51-38.
"We talked about not worrying about double teams and staying strong even if they did," Jackson said. "Once I got down low, I felt good about what I could do. When I got it, I wanted to finish strong."
The Sycamores, making their first NCAA visit since 2001, pulled within 56-46, but Brandon Triche buried a 3-pointer -- his first field goal -- to make it 61-46 and the Orange were never threatened again.
Syracuse has adopted "unfinished business" as its mantra since the season began. The cover of the team's media guide features Boeheim, his arms folded across his chest, standing in front of his players with the motto in bold letters. The Orange have taken their first step toward completing the task.
Indiana State trailed by 17 in the first half and was teetering. But the Sycamores hit four 3-pointers in the last 6:32, closing within 38-30 on Kelly's layup with 33 seconds left. They caught another break when a 3-pointer at the halftime horn was waved off after the officials reviewed the shot.
Inexplicably, Syracuse stopped going inside to Jackson, who scored 12 points in the first half but didn't have a field goal over the final 11:42.
To prepare for Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone, Indiana State practiced with a hockey stick that coach Greg Lansing borrowed from the school's recreation department. The idea was to get the Sycamores used to dealing with the Orange's long arms.
As they learned, the real thing is much tougher.
"We just weren't quite aggressive enough," Lansing said. "That has everything to do with the Syracuse defense."