Another close game for No. 1 Syracuse, and another escape with an unblemished record.
The Orange did it again on Saturday night, with a C.J. Fair layup with 6.7 seconds remaining giving Syracuse a 56-55 win over an N.C. State team that didn’t reach New York until early Saturday due to travel issues. Of Syracuse’s 12 ACC victories six have been by six points or less, and on Saturday night N.C. State went blow for blow with the Orange.
T.J. Warren (23 points) and Kyle Washington (14) led the way offensively for much of the night for the Wolfpack, with both taking advantage of the high post and Warren scoring from other areas of the floor as well. But they needed help in the second half, and that came in the form of two Ralston Turner three-pointers within a 90-second stretch to give N.C. State a 50-45 lead with 6:27 remaining.
With Fair, Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney all struggling offensively, this had the appearance of a game that N.C. State would win and bolster their NCAA tournament resume in the process. Fortunately for Syracuse Rakeem Christmas and Jerami Grant picked up the slack, with Christmas reaching double figures (14 points) for the first time since January 18. Fair’s basket may have won the game, but without the contributions of Christmas and Grant Syracuse isn’t in position to take advantage of two Wolfpack turnovers in the final 22 seconds.
Of course there was controversy, with some arguing that a foul committed by Trevor Cooney on Warren with 13.7 seconds remaining should have been a shooting foul. Had that been the case Warren would have been at the line with a chance to put N.C. State up four. But with the foul being called on the floor the Wolfpack had to inbound the ball underneath, and the ensuing turnover led to Fair’s game-winner.
The Orange may have escaped but their shooting struggles need to be addressed with the schedule getting even tougher. Syracuse shot just 35.2% from the field and 2-for-12 from three, with their advantages in points from the foul line (16-7) and second-chance points (14-7) helping to make up for the off night from the field. But that isn’t going to be the case every night, and with their (for the time being) six-man rotation Syracuse is operating with a slim margin for error.
The most important aspect is the result, and Syracuse has found ways to win all season long. Will that continue? That remains to be seen, but these nail biters are a dangerous way to live.