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Nichols, Harris lead Syracuse past Holy Cross

Nov 28, 2006 - 2:28 AM SYRACUSE, New York (Ticker) -- Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim got his point across about getting off to a strong start. However, he remains concerned about the finish.

Demetris Nichols scored 21 points, freshman Paul Harris added 14 and Josh Wright 13 for No. 14 Syracuse, which struggled to remain undefeated with a 72-64 victory over Holy Cross.

The Orange (7-0) needed to rebound from 15-point first-half deficits in recent victories over Northeastern and Canisius. However, their defense made things miserable for the Crusaders (5-1) from the opening tip.

Holy Cross missed seven of its first eight shots and scored just two points in the first 9:20 of the contest. The Crusaders committed 14 turnovers and did not take a foul shot in the first half.

"I thought in the first half, we played the best defense we've played all year," Boeheim said. "We started to play the same way in the second half until they started blowing the whistles. Then the whole game changed."

"We've been stressing defense a lot in practice lately," Nichols said. "We tried to get in the groove early."

Reaching the 20-point plateau for the third straight game, Nichols made three 3-pointers, Harris scored five points and Wright added four to give Syracuse a 23-7 lead with 7:20 left before halftime.

"My teammates did a great job of finding me and I knocked them down," Nichols said.

"Demetris was tremendous," Boeheim said. "He made good decisions and played great defense."

The Orange extended their lead to 51-36 midway through the second half when Eric Devendorf connected with Wright for an alley-oop dunk, which brought the home fans to their feet.

Looking to win its first six games for the first time since 1988-1989, Holy Cross (5-1) began to gradually chip away at the lead and make Syracuse nervous.

Keith Simmons scored 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, and Colin Cunningham went 5-of-5 from the foul line down the stretch to bring the Crusaders within 68-64 with 17 seconds remaining.

"I thought we ran out of energy a little bit in the second half," Boeheim said. "We were just a step slow. ... Mentally, this was a good experience for us. We made plays we had to make."

Syracuse sealed its fifth consecutive victory over Holy Cross after Devendorf and Nichols combined to hit 4-of-4 free throws in the waning seconds. The teams had not met since the Orange posted a 77-57 triumph in the 1981 NIT.

Simmons scored 22 points, Cunningham added 11 and Alex Vander Bean collected 11 rebounds for the Crusaders.

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