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Flynn, Syracuse hold on to top South Florida

Jan 3, 2009 - 7:21 AM TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Unlike the year before, Syracuse won a league game it was supposed to.

Jonny Flynn connected on a key jumper late and finished with 11 points as No. 11 Syracuse held on for a 59-54 victory over South Florida in a Big East contest on Friday.

Andy Rautins scored 14 points and Arinze Onuaku added 13 and 11 rebounds for the Orange (14-1, 2-0 Big East), who avenged an 89-78 upset here last February.

Last year's loss was a tough one for Syracuse, as it contributed to the Orange's 9-9 league mark and a second straight season without a berth in the NCAA Tournament. South Florida had dropped 10 straight games coming into that previous matchup.

Leading by 16 points at the half, Syracuse saw South Florida claw back into the game, closing within 52-47 on a 3-pointer by Dominique Jones with 5:50 remaining.

"We were very fortunate to be able to hang on," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told The Post-Standard.

Rautins answered back with one of his four 3-pointers, but that did not deter the Bulls, who got within a single possession at 55-52 on a dunk by Jones off a turnover by the Orange with 3:19 to play.

Flynn was unable to respond with a deep 3-pointer, but was able to track down his own rebound and reset the offense before hitting a shot from just inside the top of the key with two minutes left.

Freshman Gus Gilchrist hit a jumper for South Florida with 1:33 left, but Eric Devendorf converted two free throws to make it 59-54 with 19 seconds to go.

Devendorf finished with eight points for Syracuse, playing in his second contest following a two-game suspension for his involvement in an incident with a female student.

Those were two big free throws for Syracuse, which struggled mightily at the stripe, going 7-of-18. Onuaku was the biggest transgressor, making just 1-of-9 attempts.

"I really don't have nothing to explain that," Onuaku told The Post-Standard. "I just gotta keep shooting them. And start making them. We're gonna go to practice and just keep working on it. Whatever needs to be changed, whatever needs to be fixed, we're just gonna keep working on it."

The Orange, who won their first two league games for the second straight year, did play without starting small forward Paul Harris, who suffered a deep cut on his right hand in Tuesday's 100-76 win over Seton Hall.

Harris, who averages 12.9 points and 8.4 rebounds, vowed to be back in the lineup for Wednesday's contest against DePaul.

"I'm playing against DePaul," he told the newspaper. "No doubt."

Jones scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half for the Bulls (5-8, 0-1), who lost a Big East opener for the third time in four years.

"I am proud that we showed a lot of character and more toughness in the second half," South Florida coach Stan Heath told the Tampa Tribune. "We're going to need to be that way. We need to be a team that's going to scrap and outwork and not give up the easy baskets."

It was the 16th league loss in the last two seasons for South Florida, which displayed some of its ineptitude late.

Facing a 57-54 deficit with just over a minute remaining, the Bulls nearly went through the entire shot clock before settling for a fadeaway 3-point attempt from the left wing by Jones that was off the mark.

"We would have wanted to work for something a little better," Heath told the Tribune. "He had a difficult shot, but in some ways he can make that shot."

Devendorf tracked down the long rebound, but was not fouled right away by South Florida, which allowed Syracuse to run 20 seconds off the clock before sending the junior guard to the line.

Mobolaji Ajayi added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Bulls, who will host another ranked team - Louisville - on Wednesday.