SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins provided another memorable moment in Syracuse's storybook season.
The Orange's fifth-year seniors held aloft an unlikely prize Tuesday night - the Big East championship trophy - after Syracuse beat St. John's 85-66 in its first game in two decades as the No. 1 team in the nation.
``It's a blessing. I've been here five years and it's the first time my mom's seen me play here,' Onuaku said. ``It's just special. We came in the same day, and we were two guys that they felt wouldn't be much, underrated guys. We came here, worked hard, and it's paid off.'
Onuaku finished with a season-high 21 points and had eight rebounds, and Rautins had 14 points and seven assists as Syracuse won the Big East title outright for only the second time (1990-91).
``I really couldn't think of a better way to go out,' said Rautins, who was accompanied by his dad, Leo, a former Syracuse star, in pregame festivities on senior night. ``We're not going to be satisfied just yet.'
Wes Johnson had 13 points, four assists and four blocks, and reserves Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine combined for 23 points for Syracuse (28-2, 15-2).
D.J. Kennedy led St. John's (15-14, 5-12) with 19 points, while Paris Horne had 18.
The Orange were coming off a raucous 95-77 victory over No. 9 Villanova on Saturday night before an NCAA record on-campus crowd of 34,616 to move from No. 4 to the top spot on Monday. It was the first time the Orange were there since a six-week stint in 1989-90 and they apparently like the view.
Syracuse closes the regular season on Saturday at Louisville looking to finish 9-0 on the road. Their only losses this season were at home to the Cardinals and Pittsburgh.
``To win this league outright is a tremendous accomplishment,' said coach Jim Boeheim, whose Orange were picked sixth in the preseason conference poll and were not ranked. ``They deserve to be called champions. They played like that all year long.'
St. John's dropped to 0-7 against ranked teams this season, but the Red Storm beat Louisville at home and Notre Dame on the road in consecutive games just over two weeks ago and kept pace with the Orange early.
Horne hit two 3-pointers and Kennedy hit another to move St. John's within 23-20 with 8:27 left. But the Red Storm lost their second-leading scorer and top outside threat midway through the first half when Dwight Hardy twisted a knee and was carried off the court by two teammates.
Syracuse finished the half on a 19-8 run, and Rautins led the way. After driving and dishing off to Onuaku for a layup, Rautins hit a 3 from the top of the key and set up Joseph with a perfect lob to boost the lead to 33-22 with 4:55 to go.
``It's hard to come off a game like Villanova,' Jardine said. ``I think we did a great job as far as keeping our composure and getting out and playing Syracuse basketball, getting out running and filling the lanes and playing defense.'
St. John's found some openings in the Syracuse zone at the outset as Anthony Mason Jr. and Justin Brownlee converted lobs from Malik Boothe. But the Orange began to extend their defense and the Red Storm struggled, getting called for a shot clock violation and backcourt violation on consecutive possessions.
``Syracuse did what they do best,' said Justin Burrell, who had eight points, five rebounds and four steals for the Red Storm. ``They turned it up, blocked shots, forced a lot of turnovers, forced us to take tough shots and got out in transition.'
Syracuse, which outscored St. John's 22-4 on the break, extended its 42-28 halftime lead to as many as 16 points in the first 5 minutes of the second when Brandon Triche hit a pullup 3 in transition to make it 52-36 with 16:27 left.
After Horne hit his fourth 3 of the game to cut the margin to 11, Jardine negated it with a three-point play, and Onuaku's follow of a missed 3 by Rautins gave the Orange a 59-44 lead with 12:27 left.
Johnson's soaring slam dunk and four straight baskets by Onuaku - a slam off a pass from Johnson, a putback, and consecutive layups off feeds from Rautins and Jardine - had Syracuse up 72-54 with 7:31 remaining.
Boeheim pulled Onuaku with 2:47 left as the Carrier Dome crowd roared its appreciation and Rautins followed just over a minute later.
``I'm just so glad they did good,' junior forward Rick Jackson said. ``I'm going to miss those guys. We've been through a lot. Hopefully, we can win a championship together.'
The Associated Press News Service
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