Syracuse's James Southerland, left, looks to pass against Providence's Josh Fortune during the first half in an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)
SYRACUSE (AP) -- Michael Carter-Williams started the season with a flourish for Syracuse, averaging double-digit assists to lead the nation when Big East play began in early January.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore point guard has since fallen to second nationally, averaging eight assists a game, but his deft touch was on full display again Wednesday night against Providence as he helped lead No. 8 Syracuse to an big first half en route to an 84-59 victory.
It's the most points Syracuse has scored this season in conference play, a good omen for the Orange heading toward the postseason.
"He played very well," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "The first half you couldn't play much better than that."
Carter-Williams finished with 15 points and 12 assists, the 10th time he's registered at least 10 assists in a game this season but only the second time in league play.
"He played one of his better games in a long time," Providence coach Ed Cooley said. "If he's making assists for other guys, they're really good. When he's not, they don't play well."
Syracuse outscored the Friars 31-4 over the final 10 minutes of the first half to take a 43-16 lead at the break. The Orange were 4 of 6 on 3-pointers and shot 63 percent (17 of 27) in the period, notching 12 assists. Carter-Williams assisted on eight baskets, four straight to close the half, and had no turnovers as the Orange pretty much scored at will.
"I tried to be aggressive in the beginning, just getting to the basket and getting in my rhythm," Carter-Williams said. "It just opened things up."
James Southerland scored 20 points as Syracuse (22-4, 10-3 Big East) won its 38th straight home game, the longest active streak in Division I, and moved into a tie with Marquette and No. 11 Georgetown atop the conference standings. C.J. Fair had 20 points and 10 rebounds, his ninth double-double of the season, and Brandon Triche had 14 points for the Orange.
Providence (14-12, 6-8) had won four straight conference games, including triumphs over then-No. 17 Cincinnati and then-No. 21 Notre Dame on Saturday.
Back to the drawing board.
"They broke our winning streak, and we're trying to start another one to end the season," said LaDontae Henton, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Friars.
Kadeem Batts had 13 points, and Big East scoring leader Bryce Cotton had 10, half his season average, on 3-of-10 shooting for Providence. Guard Vincent Council had 15 points and seven assists to become the Big East's all-time assists leader with 431, eclipsing former Syracuse star Sherman Douglas' previous record of 426, set from 1985-89.
Small consolation on this night.
"I'm very honored, even though I'd love to have won the game," Council said. "It's definitely kind of special knowing that Sherman Douglas went to Syracuse."
After Council passed to Batts for a jumper to tie the score at 12-all, the Orange took off behind Southerland, who scored nine points in a 4-minute span and finished the half with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Southerland also hit two 3-pointers and dunked off a pretty feed from Carter-Williams to boost the lead to 36-16 with 2:09 left.
Carter-Williams, who started the Syracuse rush with a layup, then passed to Fair for a 3 from the wing, threaded a nifty bounce pass through traffic in the lane to set up Fair for a slam dunk, and finished the half with an assist on a fast-break layup by Triche.
Connecticut's guard tandem of Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier handled the Orange in a 66-58 home victory last week, combining for 27 points and 11 assists in the last scheduled meeting between the fierce conference rivals. Cotton and Council figured to offer a stiff test, too, but the Orange were ready this time.
The Friars missed all six of their attempts from long range and were 8 of 27 (29.6 percent) from the floor in the first half as Cotton, the Big East's scoring leader at 20.4 points per game, attempted just three shots and scored only two points. Henton's dunk and a fast-break layup by Cotton were the only Providence baskets over the final 10:08 of the period.
"We wasn't making shots and we couldn't withstand the first punch," Council said.
The Friars shot 23 of 66 (34.8 percent) for the game, just 3 of 18 (16.7 percent) on 3-pointers against the conference's top perimeter defense.
"Not many teams are going to beat this team making three 3s," Cooley said. "Give them credit. They played well, we played bad. That's as bad as we've played all year. When we played bad before, we were in the game. We were listless today. We looked sluggish."
The Orange led 47-17 after two free throws by Triche early in the second half. The Friars got as close as 63-45 on Council's steal and layup with 8:50 left.
This was the Orange's last regular-season Big East game with Providence as Syracuse prepares to move to the Atlantic Coast Conference in July. The slow demise of the league's signature basketball rivalries continues on Saturday when Georgetown visits. The game is already a sellout at 35,012, which will set a Carrier Dome record.
"It's a great game," Boeheim said. "They're playing great basketball. Right now, they're playing as well as anybody in the country."