FINAL SCORE: Cal 73, Syracuse 59. Jordan Mathews scored 21 of 22 points in the second half and the Bears (3-0) knocked off the No. 23 Orange (2-1).
Cal faces No. 10 Texas (3-0) in Friday’s 2K Classic championship game at Madison Square Garden. (ESPN2, 4 p.m. PT)
An early signature victory for new coach Cuonzo Martin, whose team was totally prepared for everything Syracuse threw at them, and stayed poised late at the most famous arena in the world.
After three losses to Syracuse since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Bears get over the hump.
“We lost to them the past two years, and with guys that were returning it plays on your mind,” said Martin, the former Tennessee coach. “But I thought our guys did a great job of accepting the challenge.”
Senior forward David Kravish had a David Kravish game — smart and controlled, contributing in so many ways: 12 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots. Jabari Bird, after a tentative start, keyed the run late in the first half that gave Cal separation and finished with 16 points, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
“It’s a big win for our program,” Bird said. “We came out here, we’re not ranked. We’re kind of an underdog team that’s going up against a great team in Syracuse. They put up a great fight and we got a great team `W’ tonight.”
Point guard Tyrone Wallace had four turnovers and was in too much of a hurry a couple times, but still had 10 points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals. He will play better, but he was fine.
The Bears got a terrific contribution from their bench: 7 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals.
Sam Singer had eight assists, four rebounds and two steals — a very strong effort. Freshman Kingsley Okoroh, the 7-foot-1 center from Britain, had four points, five rebounds and a block, and never backed down. Looked like he belongs.
Syracuse tried to press late in the game, but Cal handled that, too.
“I thought they did a great job,” Martin said of the performance. “The thing we talked about is, let’s finish ballgames. Whatever happens when we left the Bay Area we wanted to get better. When we land back in the Bay, we wanted to be a better basketball team regardless of the outcome.
“I thought we got better in this game.”
Cal shot 46.4 percent, including 8 for 19 from 3-point range. The Bears had 22 assists on 26 baskets — excellent ball movement against the vaunted Syracuse zone most of the night. The Orange struggled offensively, shooting 35.9 percent, including 4 for 17 from beyond the arc.
“They showed up tonight and we didn’t,” Orange coach Jim Boeheim said.
Texas will be a load — they are huge. But Cal appears ready to take on the challenge.