It took only one half for James Southerland to knock off the rust.
Then Syracuse's sharp-shooting senior forward celebrated his return to the lineup by helping sink a St. John's team that was reeling from the death of coach Steve Lavin's father.
Playing for the first time in seven games, Southerland scored 13 points, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half to give No. 9 Syracuse a comfortable lead, and the Orange beat the Red Storm 77-58 on Sunday.
"I feel confident. I feel like I took a lot of pressure off the guys just being in uniform and playing, another impact during the game," Southerland said. "It definitely felt great. I was kind of hoping it came a little sooner, but I can't complain."
Southerland missed the previous six games due to an eligibility issue regarding academics and the Orange went 4-2, losing twice in a row. He was restored to the lineup before the game after the issue was resolved Friday and played 26 minutes, going 4 for 6 in the second half after missing all four shots he attempted in a shaky first half.
"I was surprised he got going," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "It's tough when you have a bad first half in your first game back. But he got it going."
It was the 37th straight win in the Carrier Dome for the Orange (20-3, 8-2 Big East), extending the nation's longest active home streak in Division I. The win also extended Boeheim's NCAA record of 20-win seasons to 35.
Lavin missed the game due to the overnight death of his 82-year-old father, Cap, leaving the reins to assistant coach Rico Hines. Lavin informed his coaching staff around 9 a.m. and then flew to New York City.
"What a tough way to come out and be a head coach for the first time, huh? Losing Cap is a big blow," Hines said. "He was an ambassador of the game. He loved the game of basketball. My heart was heavy all day. It was a tough day."
The message "Do it for Cap" written on the blackboard in the locker room wasn't enough for St. John's (15-9, 7-5), which had won six of seven.
Michael Carter-Williams had 17 points, eight assists and a career-high six steals, and Brandon Triche had 16 points and matched his career high with seven assists as the Orange backcourt excelled. C.J. Fair added 17 points and nine rebounds for Syracuse.
Freshman JaKarr Sampson had 21 points to lead St. John's, while D'Angelo Harrison had 13 on 4-of-13 shooting, and Phil Greene scored 10. Chris Obekpa, second nationally with 101 blocks, finished with one block to go with seven points and five rebounds.
After trailing the entire first half, twice by 15 points, the Red Storm rallied early in the second. Harrison drained a pair of 3s in the opening minutes and pulled St. John's to 43-34 with an off-balance attempt from the top of the key as the shot clock buzzer sounded at 16:08.
After Southerland's dunk in transition, St. John's went on a 9-2 spurt. A corner 3 by Marco Bourgault, his only make of the game, and two straight baskets in close by Obekpa pulled the Red Storm to 48-43 with 11:45 remaining.
"We knew we were playing for coach Lavin," Harrison said. "We play for him every game, but especially this one. This one hurts because we didn't win for him, but we'll see him tomorrow. We'll pray for him and do everything we can to help."
Fair halted the St. John's spurt with a baseline runner and Southerland's pretty behind-the-back feed to Triche for a dunk in transition got the Orange rolling again.
Southerland then hit two 3s from the top of the key in a 64-second span — eliciting a roar from the crowd — and Syracuse restored its 13-point halftime lead. St. John's never got closer than eight in the final 8 minutes.
"We had momentum. We felt good," Sampson said. "They had the last run."
And it was keyed by Southerland, who never stopped practicing with the team and never gave up hope his eligibility problem would be resolved.
"It's hard for a senior to miss games like that," Boeheim said. "It's very difficult. We forget how important each game is to an athlete. It's life and death. He deserves a lot of credit."
The Orange hit 10 of 22 from behind the arc and held the Red Storm to 5 of 22 from long range.
"As soon as he got his rhythm, he was the same old James knocking down shots," Carter-Williams said. "He's a big presence in our offense. It means a lot having him back. It makes us a lot more dangerous."
Syracuse was 14 of 28 from the floor in the first half, 5 of 11 from long range, and held the Red Storm to 8-of-24 shooting and 2 of 11 from behind the arc in building a 37-24 halftime lead.
Boeheim said afterward that freshman Jerami Grant, who had filled in solidly in Southerland's absence, would start the rest of the season. Southerland remains Boeheim's first option off the bench, and he's happy to be back there.
"I feel we're a lot more dangerous," Southerland said. "It gives a lot of our guys less pressure and easier opportunities to make baskets."