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Orangemen Squeeze Mountaineers

West Virginia coach Gale Catlett doesn't remember Syracuse center Etan Thomas playing against his Mountaineers last season. After Saturday, Catlett would rather forget him.

"How can I compare? ... When we played them, he wasn't even in the game," Catlett said after watching Thomas score 11 of his 19 points during a key five-minute span in the second half and help No. 23 Syracuse outmuscle No. 16 West Virginia on the backboards for a 73-58 victory.

"Is he just a sophomore? He ought to go pro," Catlett said. "My 6-11 kid went pro last year and he wasn't that good."

Actually, Thomas did play against the Mountaineers in one of their two meetings last season. He was forgettable with just two points and four rebounds. On Saturday, Thomas hit all six of his shots from the field and added seven rebounds and six blocked shots.

"We want to establish an inside presence," Thomas said. "Coach (Jim) Boeheim has been talking about it all year. He said I've been working hard on different low post moves and taking it up strong. He wants me rewarded. He doesn't want me to keep working hard and never get the ball. I just have to be patient. Coach has kept telling me my time will come."

It may have already arrived.

Syracuse (19-5, 9-4 Big East) was ahead 40-39 when Thomas took over the game, scoring 11 points during a 13-5 spurt that gave the Orangemen a 53-44 lead with 10:04 to play. During the spurt Thomas, a 50 percent free throw shooter, made five consecutive foul shots and ended the run with two impressive dunks.

"He was hot," Syracuse point guard Jason Hart said. "If you don't keep giving it to someone who's hot, something's wrong. He just took over down there. That's what he has to do for us, there's no question his presence in the middle is felt throughout this league."

Todd Burgan had 26 points to lead Syracuse and also grabbed 10 rebounds to help the Orangemen to a 46-32 rebounding advantage, which helped offset their 19 turnovers.
"They crushed us on the boards," Catlett said.

The Mountaineers (20-5, 10-5) were led by Brent Solheim's 13 points but they shot poorly everywhere: missing 40 of 65 shots from the field, including 13 of 16 from 3-point range, and going just 5-of-17 from the foul line.

"When you go 5-for-17 from the free throw line - I'm not sure I've ever had a team do that before in my coaching career," said Catlett, who has spent 26 seasons as a head coach, including 20 at West Virginia.

Damian Owens, West Virginia's top scorer at 19 points a game and third in the nation in steals, injured his back with 7:16 to play in the first half and watched the rest of the game from the bench. He scored just six points.

Burgan was 4-of-5 on 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes to help overcome the Orangemen's 14 turnovers and give them a 33-28 halftime lead.

The Mountaineers were able to hang on to the ball but couldn't crack Syracuse's 2-zone. West Virginia stayed close with 10 points off fast breaks.

Both teams were coming off big wins this week in their respective divisions. The Mountaineers routed No. 6 Connecticut 80-62 in Morgantown on Wednesday to pull within one-half game of the Huskies in the Big East 6. Syracuse won 72-63 at Miami to take a one-half game lead over the Hurricanes in the Big East 7.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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