SYRACUSE, N.Y. — If adversity builds character, then the Syracuse Orange should have a pretty good vibe heading into the Thanksgiving holiday.
Playing without its top scorer for most of the second half and its two centers who fouled out, Syracuse (5-0) outlasted Toledo (3-1) 72-64 on Wednesday night – thanks to tenacious defense and clutch performances by Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett who took over when Tyus Battle left with a back injury.
Howard and Brissett had career highs of 25 and 17 points, with 25 of their points coming in the final 20 minutes. Brissett, in addition to his 17 points, had a double-double with a career-best 14 rebounds.
Freshman Matthew Moyer had his best game for Syracuse, scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Syracuse had 16 offensive rebounds, turning those boards into 22 second-chance points. The Orange also held Toledo, which had been averaging 85.7 points a game, to its lowest scoring output of the young season. Leading scorer Jaelan Sanford was held to 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting.
Tre’Shaun Fletcher led the Rockets with 19 points. Nate Navigato added 13 points and Luke Knapke had 12.
The Orange lost Battle for much of the second half. Battle appeared to hurt his back when he flipped over a Toledo shooter with 15:44 to go. He stayed in the game but came out shortly thereafter in obvious pain.
And, to add insult to Battle’s injury, Syracuse centers Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe both fouled out.
“Unfortunately, we had our best player and big men come out, but everybody stepped up, which is what we needed,” Brissett said. “This game shows there’s a lot of fight in everybody and that everybody’s doing what they need to do to win.”
In addition to his 25 points, Howard had six rebounds, four assists and no turnovers.
“I just wanted to be aggressive offensively and finish plays today,” Howard said. “(With Battle out) I definitely felt it was time to get some quick buckets, get in the lane a little bit. Just get some finishes at the rim to get us going.”
Toledo took its first lead, 35-33 on a 3-pointer by Navigato in the opening minute of the second half. But the Orange answered with a 11-0 run to take a 44-35 lead, fueled by three buckets by Howard, one on a steal by Moyer, and two put-backs and a foul shot by Moyer.
Toledo closed to within three at 44-41 but Syracuse, led by Brissett’s six points and five by Howard, went on a 13-2 run to extend the lead to 57-43.
“I thought when Tyus went out, Frank took the game over. He immediately made a couple of big shots and got us a cushion,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “Oshae and Frank really took over in the second half. They were really the difference offensively.”
Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk was impressed.
“They have unbelievable length and they get out in that zone, and when you see it live you have a lot more respect for it,” Kowalczyk said. “I would venture to say this is one of the better defensive teams that he’s (Boeheim) had.”
With Howard and Battle seemingly alternating field goals for much of the first half Syracuse took a 28-20 lead, but the Rockets closed on a 12-5 run to close the gap to 33-32 at intermission.
Toledo: The Rockets should get its act together against Cornell but has some work to do before facing No. 3 Kansas.
Syracuse: The Orange should be confident heading into their Monday matchup against Maryland. If Matt Moyer can contribute on a regular basis and the defensive intensity continues, Syracuse could surprise. All bets are off, though, if Battle is hampered.
Toledo’s tour of upstate New York continues Friday at Cornell.
Syracuse has a nice break until Monday when the Orange has their biggest test of the young season – a Carrier Dome matchup against Maryland.