Nothing brings a smile to the face of Etan Thomas quicker than a blocked shot, and the Syracuse center was grinning an awful lot Monday night.
Thomas, who missed the first two games of the season with a staph infection, returned to the lineup with a vengeance, scoring 24 points and matching his school record of nine blocks as the No. 14 Orangemen defeated Florida Atlantic 105-79.
"I didn't know what to expect," said Thomas, who is one block away from tying the school career record of 327 held by former center Roosevelt Bouie. "I just wanted to play the best that I could. That's all I wanted to do, and they did a good job of finding me."
The Orangemen scored 100 points for the first time since beating Winthrop 106-51 in the 1996-97 season-opener, and the way they did it impressed coach Jim Boeheim.
"The best thing about tonight was our unselfishness 38 baskets and 32 assists," Boeheim said.
Thomas clogged the lane and blocked four shots in the opening four minutes as Syracuse scored the first 11 points of the game.
The Owls, with four junior college transfers and three freshmen on their roster, were sluggish at the outset and missed their first 10 shots. But they refused to fold right away.
After DeShaun Williams and Preston Shumpert hit consecutive 3-pointers to key a 10-point surge in 61 seconds, part of a 25-2 Syracuse run, the Owls found their long-range touch and rallied with a 21-4 surge.
A trio of 3-pointers by Hercek and two by Motiejus Reimeris moved the Owls to 40-30 with 6:01 left.
"We were a little bit tight at first, and that's expected," Owls coach Sidney Green said. "But they were able to rally. I was very proud of their effort, and that's all we can ask for.
"We don't have an Etan Thomas on our team yet, but we will get him one day," Green said. "They played well, they executed well, and that's why they're nationally ranked. We're trying to get where Syracuse is at right now, and we will."
After Syracuse's starting five returned, the Owls managed just two baskets the remainder of the first half and trailed 53-34 heading into the second.
Seven points by Damone Brown, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, and consecutive baskets by Thomas put Syracuse up 73-45 with just more than 13 minutes left in the game and the Owls were finished.
Tony Lee led the Owls with 17 points, Hercek had 16, Darius Skeete 14, Marques Williams 13, and Reimeris 12.
Jason Hart had 15 points and Kueth Duany 13 for Syracuse.
Thomas logged 25 minutes altogether, and he felt it.
"I was a little winded at times," said Thomas, who moved past Rony Seikaly and Derrick Coleman on the career blocks list. "My energy level isn't quite where it should be. But I'll finish off my antibiotics. I have a week until we play Colgate, and it should be all right."
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