SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Tyus Battle’s 16 second-half points — including 10 straight for Syracuse — created some separation from Eastern Michigan but it was Paschal Chukwu’s unexpected success from the foul line that kept the Orange in the game.
Battle finished with 22 points and Chukwu added a career-high 15 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks to lead Syracuse (11-2) to a 62-47 win over Eastern Michigan (8-4) on Wednesday night.
Chukwu, a 48-percent shooter from the foul line entering the game, hit 9-of-11 free throws, including 5-of-6 in the first half when Syracuse had a hard time mustering any kind of offense. The Orange had just five field goals on 21 attempts in the first 20 minutes with half of its 24 points coming at the line. The teams were tied at 24 at the break.
“That’s the goal, if they’re going to foul me, to make them pay,” Chukwu said of his nine made foul shots, also a career high. “I was able to accomplish that today. As my foul shooting gets better, I’ll make them pay more.”
Syracuse was called for just seven personal fouls to Eastern Michigan’s 19 and took 20 more foul shots than the Eagles — hitting 20-of-26 to the Eagles’ 4-of-6.
“When you come into a venue like this you have to overcome an ACC team coached by a Hall of Fame coach (Jim Boeheim),” Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy said. “But, then, when it’s consistent calls every time up the floor and they’re against you — 19 fouls to seven — you just can’t win that way. I’m not one to talk about officiating or fouls being called, but tonight it was evident. We just couldn’t overcome it.”
Battle had just six points on 1-of-6 shooting, including 0-of-5 from 3-point range, in the first half, but heated up in the second, hitting 6-of-9 field-goal attempts, including 3-of-4 3-pointers, to lead the Orange. Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett had 11 points each, and Brissett snagged 12 rebounds.
Elijah Minnie led Eastern Michigan with 13 points. James Thompson IV added 12.
The game was tied at 26-all when Howard and Battle went to work. After Chukwu hit two free throws, Howard scored the next five on a layup and 3-pointer and Battle scored the next 10 for the Orange, hitting back-to-back 3s, a layup and a jumper to give Syracuse a 43-36 lead with 11:30 to go. Eastern Michigan scored the next five but Syracuse closed the game on a 19-6 run, including six more from Battle. The Orange shot 52 percent from the field after intermission.
“I knew one was going to fall eventually,” said Battle, who shot just 3-of-18 in Syracuse’s loss to St. Bonaventure last Friday. “You can’t miss that many shots, one has to go in. I wasn’t worried. You can’t stop shooting or that means you’ve lost confidence and that’s never good.”
The story of the game, though, was Chukwu_on both ends of the court.
“He’s (7 feet 2 inches). He blocks shots. He alters shots,” Murphy said. “When you’re (7 feet 2 inches), guys on offense always think about you. Even if you’re not around they wonder where you are. I also saw from him he was able to step to the line and make free throws. He shoots something like 48 percent but he stepped up and made some big free throws. He was great defensively, he made his free throws. He had a huge impact on the game.”
Eastern Michigan hung tough but was outgunned by a more athletic team. Nothing to be ashamed of but the Eagles have just one day to regroup for a game Friday.
Syracuse heated up in the second half but must improve its perimeter game if Jim Boeheim’s club is to do any damage in the ACC. Another worry: the physical condition of backup center Bourama Sidibe, who sat out with nagging knee and ankle injuries.
Sidibe sat out for the third time in the last five games and Jim Boeheim said the team is thinking about a medical redshirt. That would be a big blow.
Eastern Michigan hosts Rochester Friday.
Syracuse begins ACC play at home Sunday against Virginia Tech.