SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Sooner or later, Syracuse's penchant for poor starts is bound to come back and haunt.
Two days after manhandling upstate New York foe Colgate 86-51 with a solid performance from start to finish, the Orange (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 16 AP) reverted to their rallying ways, coming from 16 points behind to beat hot-shooting Ryan Wittman and Cornell 88-78 on Wednesday night.
It was biggest deficit Syracuse (8-0) has overcome since rallying to beat Rutgers 86-84 on the road after trailing by 20 in January 2005. The Orange defeated both Kansas and Virginia this season after trailing by 13.
"This was the worst game of the season for us, by far," Orange guard Andy Rautins said. "We let down early. We didn't find shooters, but we stuck it out. We showed again that we're a second-half team, but we don't want to be a second-half team because we can get buried and may not be able to come back."
Despite staring at the imposing Paul Harris for much of the game, Wittman nearly buried Syracuse (8-0) singlehandedly, hitting nine 3-pointers and scoring 33 points, both career highs. Wittman was 12-for-28 from the floor and played 39 minutes.
"That's a lot of shots. I wasn't necessarily trying to do that," he said. "I was just trying to take what the defense gave me. They weren't defending the down screen quite as well, and I got open a couple of times. They were kind of confused on what they were doing."
The Orange trailed the entire first half and 6-foot-9, 275-pound center Arinze Onuaku was nearly invisible. Onuaku, averaging 13 points a game, did not take a shot and had one rebound in the period.
"We've been more patient every second half," coach Jim Boeheim said. "Hopefully, we can do that in the first half. We're still scoring."
Jonny Flynn had 24 points and Harris added 21 points and nine rebounds to pace Syracuse, which pressed to get back in the game and trailed only 40-35 at halftime. Eric Devendorf had 15 points, Onuaku finished with 12 and Rautins had 11.
"We made some really bad decisions," Boeheim said. "We got some things out of our press, got them to take a couple of quick shots. We got back into it at halftime or it could have been worse."
Cornell (4-4), playing its fifth straight road game, hasn't beaten Syracuse in 40 years, suffering 31 straight losses, but the Big Red staged a game fight on this night.
Onuaku converted a three-point play to start the second half and move the Orange within 40-38. After Rautins swished a 3 from the right wing to tie it at 53-all, Harris scored eight points in a 12-0 Syracuse run. Rautins finished the spurt with two free throws, giving Syracuse a 67-57 lead with 8:33 left.
The Big Red, who were 13-of-29 on 3-pointers, didn't buckle.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Wittman brought them within 70-65 less than two minutes later. Freshman guard Chris Wroblewski made the first of two free throws to cut the Syracuse lead to 75-69 with 4:51 left, and when Brian Kreefer grabbed the rebound off the missed second free throw, the Big Red had another chance.
Seconds later, though, Wroblewski missed an open 3 from the right side and Flynn raced down court for a layup and an eight-point lead.
"If we can knock down that shot, it really puts a lot of pressure on, makes them a little more nervous," said Wittman, who nearly matched the Carrier Dome record of 10 3-pointers set by Charlotte's Brendan Plavich in November 2003. "Maybe things would have been different."
Syracuse shot 75 percent (18-for-24) in the second half, outscored Cornell 27-5 at the free-throw line for the game and had 15 steals.
"Honestly, what we were concerned with coming in was their ability to create havoc with their athleticism and their ability to steal," Cornell coach Steve Donahue said. "We hurt ourselves by fouling. We wanted to stay away from that and we didn't. When you play a team that's as talented as this team on their home court, it's probably going to come back and haunt you."
The Big Red, fourth in the nation a year ago in 3-point shooting, created open looks with their slick ball movement, hit 5-of-8 from long range in the first 12 minutes of the game and led 25-9 when Wittman hit a 3 at 11:57.
As it turned out, that was too much time to protect even that big of a lead.
"It's a dangerous trend," Harris said. "They missed a lot of open shots. If they had made them, no telling what might have happened."