SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- When Trevor Cooney arrived at Syracuse, he was billed as a shooter. That he is.
Finding open space all around the court and catching his teammates' eyes, Cooney made seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points, both career highs, to lead No. 8 Syracuse past pesky Cornell 82-60 on Friday night in the season opener for both teams.
Taking over in the Orange backcourt for Brandon Triche, the starter the previous four seasons, Cooney proved the catalyst as the Orange rallied from a 14-point deficit in the first half to beat the Big Red for the 34th straight time.
Cooney hit three 3s in a span of just over 4 minutes late in the opening half as Syracuse closed to 38-32 at the break, then scored eight points to key a game-changing 18-5 surge early in the second. He also nabbed two of his team-high four steals during the spurt, finishing the second with a court-long dash and two-handed dunk to put the Orange up 60-48 with 11:38 to go as they steadily assumed control.
"I got the first couple to go in and the game kind of flowed from there," said Cooney, a redshirt sophomore. "My teammates found me in great spots. I was getting my feet set and just knocked down shots. When you hit three or four in a row, that's when you know the game is coming to you."
Syracuse made its first game as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference one to remember. It was the first game against Cornell in three years, but the Big Red, 5-68 all-time against teams ranked in the Top 25, was up for the challenge, building that big lead in the first half behind sharpshooting Nolan Cressler.
Cornell matched Syracuse in the first half as both teams shot 13 of 29 from the field, but the Big Red hit 7 of 17 3-pointers and outrebounded the much taller Orange 19-16.
"We did a lot of things that we planned to do in the first half," said Cornell coach Bill Courtney, in his fourth year. "But Cooney getting hot in the first half really hurt us."
C.J. Fair finished with 19 points for Syracuse while the Orange's heralded freshman point guard Tyler Ennis was 0 for 6 from the field but had a team-high eight rebounds and seven assists with two turnovers. Syracuse's four freshmen finished 6 of 19 from the field as all saw extended play in the second half. The Orange outrebounded Cornell 22-7 and limited the Big Red to 9-of-25 shooting (36 percent) in the second half.
"In the second half we made some adjustments defensively, took away their high-post pass, got to the shooters better," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "When you don't move on defense, it doesn't matter what kind of defense you play."
Sophomore forward Jerami Grant, expected to be a key contributor this season for the Orange, warmed up with the team before the game but did not play. He watched in street clothes from the bench. Boeheim would not say why he was kept out of the game but that he would play in the next game, Tuesday night at home against Fordham.
Cressler finished with a career-high 23 points for Cornell but managed just three points in the second half after going 7 for 11 and scoring 20 in the first.
"We were just trying to treat it as a normal game," Cressler said. "No one's unbeatable."
Syracuse set a school record last season for 3-point field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 28.4 percent. But that was with the imposing backcourt duo of lanky 6-foot-5 point guard Michael Carter-Williams and the 6-4 Triche, who routinely forced shooters beyond their comfort range.
Carter-Williams is starring in the NBA now and Triche graduated, leaving the 6-2 Ennis and the 6-4 Cooney to assume the rigors at the top of the Orange's 2/3 zone. The Big Red finished 10 of 32 on 3s.
"We're not last year's team," Boeheim said of the squad that went to the Final Four. "Michael Carter-Williams would have gone by these guys and dunked six times. He's not here. That's something we have to adjust to. We've got a lot of work to do."
In the first half, Cressler hit 3 of 5 from beyond the arc, converted a three-point play, hit from the wing and forced a goaltending call on Orange freshman Tyler Roberson to give Cornell a stunning 36-22 lead with 4:11 left. At that point, the sophomore guard had just two fewer points than the eighth-ranked team in the nation and only two off his career high.
"Everybody sleeps on the Ivy League," Cressler said. "Year in and year out, we compete with the best teams in the country. Whenever we're playing our type of basketball, we can play with anybody and beat anybody."
Cornell was 13-18 last season and Courtney has had to replace four starters. Returning first-team All-Ivy forward Shonn Miller continues to recover from offseason surgery to his right shoulder that sidelined him in the preseason.
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