Syracuse found the right defense to turn Walter Berry into a half-Truth today at the Carrier Dome, and the 11th-ranked Orangemen had enough correct answers of their own to beat seventh-ranked St. John's, 68-64.
The victory, before a crowd of 32,165, lifted Syracuse (17-2) into first place in the Big East Conference with an 8-1 record. St. John's, which had a six-game winning streak ended, fell to 20-3 overall and 7-2 in the Big East, good for a second-place tie with Georgetown.
"We did a very good job inside defensively," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim. "We couldn't let Berry get 25 or 30 points, so we sagged the zone in on him. It helped that we had Rony (Seikaly) underneath. Against other teams, Berry turns and sees a 6-6 guy there. Today, he turned and saw a 6-10 guy in his face."
Berry, who came in averaging a league-leading 24 points and is nicknamed "The Truth," made only five of 17 from the field and finished with 15 points against Syracuse's collapsing 2-3 zone defense.
Still, the Redmen, who trailed by 47-37 with 14 minutes left, had a chance to tie the game at 66 with three seconds left.
Syracuse guard Dwayne (Pearl) Washington, who had missed a one-and-one opportunity 23 seconds earlier, went to the foul line with 15 seconds remaining. But after making the first shot, Washington banged the second try off the rim, and Berry grabbed the rebound. Mark Jackson pushed the ball upcourt and passed to Shelton Jones, who passed to Willie Glass on the left baseline.
As Glass started to make his move to the basket, Wendell Alexis slid over to meet him.
With Alexis in his face, Glass launched an off-balance five-footer that bounced off the rim into the hands of Syracuse's Rafael Addison with just one second left.
None of the St. John's players were available for comment after the game, but Alexis said he may have fouled Glass on the play.
"I was overplaying Berry inside when I saw the ball go to Willie," said Alexis, who had 12 points and nine rebounds. "I jumped halfway, but I still got a piece of the ball. There was contact on the play, but maybe not enough for the ref to call it. I got enough of the ball to get him to miss it, and then Raf got the rebound."
Addison, who led all scorers with 23 points, shooting eight for 10 from the floor and seven for eight from the line, was fouled by Berry, and Addison sank two foul shots to clinch the game.
"Sure, I wanted to be at the line," said Addison. "Any of three of us (himself, Alexis and Washington) wants the ball in the tight situations."
Such a situation occurred with 1:13 left. Berry had just hit two free throws to draw the Redmen within 63-60, and as the 45-second clock ran down to 14, Boeheim called time.
"We wanted to get the ball to me so I could penetrate," said Washington, whose nine assists today gave him a school record of 542 for his career. "But they were so concerned about me, like they were all game. Raf stepped up, and I got him the ball."
Addison hit a 22-footer from the right key for Syracuse's only basket over the final 9:55.
Despite a 32-27 halftime edge, the Orangemen didn't feel that confident. They had outshot St. John's, 64 percent to 35 percent, from the field and outrebounded the Redmen, 19-15.
"We should have been up by more," said Syracuse guard Greg Monroe, who came off the bench in the first half to hit five long jumpers. "We were playing so well, but we knew if we had a letdown they'd come right back."
With Berry scoring five points in a 15-5 run, the Redmen did tie the game at 52 with 6:06 left. Syracuse survived with 15-of-19 foul shooting down the stretch.
"It's a real confidence-builder, beating a top team in a close game like this," said Addison. "But the Big East season has a long way to go."
That point was echoed by St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca, who refused to complain about the lack of a foul call on Glass' final shot.
"You can't expect to stay in the game shooting the way we did in the first half, but we did a good job of taking it to the wire," said Carnesecca.