CJ Fair tipped in a miss from Jerami Grant with 20 seconds left, and Cashmere Wright, who finished the night 2-13 from the floor and 1-8 from three, missed a deep three at the other end as No. 3 Syracuse erased a seven-point second half deficit as they knocked off No. 21 Cincinnati, 57-55. It extended the Syracuse winning streak in the Carrier Dome to 35 games, the best in the nation, and moved the Orange to 28-1 in their last 29 Big East regular season games.
And while Fair may end up being the hero, it was once again Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams that carried the load for the Orange.
After a sloppy first half where both teams looked worn-down from hard-fought, exhausting league games on Saturday and the subsequent travel to get to Syracuse — Cincinnati beat Marquette at home while the Orange won at Louisville — for a Monday afternoon tip, the second half is when things started to pick up. Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuan Parker started to find their range on the perimeter, in large part because the Bearcats were finally able to find a way to penetrate the Syracuse zone. The easiest way to beat a zone is to get the ball into the paint, attack the basket and kick the ball out to open shooters.
Cincinnati worked this to perfection for about a 12 minute stretch, taking control of the game and answering seemingly every Syracuse surge with a big bucket of their own.
Then Brandon Triche took over. After making a sweeping, acrobatic, left-handed layup in transition, Triche broke down the top of Cincinnati’s 2-3 zone, hitting a mid-range pull-up to cut the Cincinnati lead to 51-46. He did the same on the ensuing possession. After Parker pushed the lead back to six, Triche drove and found Jerami Grant for a dunk. Carter-Williams hit a 12-foot pull-up of his own on the next possession, and after Cheikh Mbodj hit 1-2 from the foul line, Carter-Williams hit a tough, step-back three to tie the game with just over a minute left, setting up Fair’s game-winner.
All told, Triche and Carter-Williams were responsible for all of the points in an 11-4 run over four minutes that tied the game and gave control back to the Orange, in impressive feat considering that the Bearcats looked like they were ready to steal a win in the Carrier Dome.
Carter-Williams finished with 16 points and seven assists, with 14 of those points coming in the second half, with the majority of those points coming on jump shots, something that has clearly not been his forte this season. That sparked this terrific quote from Jim Boeheim (via @PSBasketball):
“I can’t cook. If I believed in my cooking like he believes in his shooting, I’d win Iron Chef,” he said. “If we can’t score any other way, yeah, I’m OK with that.”
The Syracuse offense has really struggled at times without James Southerland in the mix. But the good news is that, while they probably should have lost both of the last two games, the play of their back court has bailed the Orange out down the stretch in back-to-back games. That’s a terrific sign for this group going forward.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.