SYRACUSE (WBNG BINGHAMTON) Senior C.J. Fair laid in the game-winner with 6.7 seconds left as No. 1 Syracuse escaped with 56-55 victory against North Carolina State to stay unbeaten on the season.
The winning play started with a steal by junior Rakeem Christmas with 13 seconds left on the defensive end. Christmas passed the ball to freshman Tyler Ennis who found Fair for the layup.
Syracuse (25-0, 12-0 ACC) extended its school-record for consecutive wins to 25 straight while taking down NC State (16-9, 6-6 ACC) in front of 31,572 in attendance. That total is the third largest crowd to take in an NCAA Division I college basketball game this season. It is also the first time since the 1990-91 season that the Orange has hosted four 30,000-plus crowds in a single campaign.
In a game that featured 17 lead changes and 12 ties, neither team was able to grow a lead by more than five points. The Wolfpack owned that five point advantage at 50-45 with 6:27 left in the game following a 6-0 run. Syracuse answered back with six unanswered of its own, including four free throws by Christmas to jump back on top 51-50 only 1:40 later.
With SU holding onto a 53-52 edge, Ralston Turner was fouled shooting a three and proceeded to make all three from the charity stripe to put NC State on top for the last time at 55-53 with 62 seconds to go. Fair hit one-of-two from the line 21 seconds afterward and the Orange defense forced two turnovers in the final 22 seconds, including Christmas' steal that led to Fair's winner.
Christmas had a career night with personal-bests of 12 rebounds and seven blocks to go along with 14 points for his first collegiate double-double. His points total was one off a career-high. Sophomore Jerami Grant also posted a double-double with 12 points and a career-best 14 boards. Fair was the third Orange man to reach double-figures with 11 points.
The teams exchanged baskets throughout the opening five minutes of the game with the Orange taking an 11-9 edge behind six points from Christmas, including a pair of monster dunks. Three straight points by the Wolfpack marked the first of six lead changes over the next 5:27 with Syracuse going back ahead 20-18 on a long range basket by redshirt sophomore Trevor Cooney.
NC State responded with eight of the next 10 points to take a 26-22 advantage with 2:36 remaining in the half. However, SU tallied the last four points of the half on field goals by Fair and Cooney to even the score at 26-26 at the break.
T.J. Warren recorded six of the first eight points in the second, giving him the Wolfpack's last 10 points dating back to the first half, while opening up a 32-28 margin less than three minutes into the final half. Trailing 34-30, the Orange used a 10-4 run to take its first lead of the second with Christmas and Grant each netting four points.
Grant's putback began a string of six lead changes within a span of 2:25. After freshman Tyler Ennis put the Orange up 45-44 on his three-point play, the Wolfpack scored six straight points for its largest lead of the night at 50-45 with 6:27 remaining. Syracuse would close out the game on an 11-5 run while limiting the visitors to just one field goal the rest of the way.
SU owned a nine point advantage from the free-throw line going 16-of-22 (72.7%) compared to 7-of-14 (50%) for NC State. In the second half, the Orange went 14-of-19 while NC State only attempted four free throws. Despite only holding a one-rebound margin in both total and offensive boards, Syracuse enjoyed a 14-7 edge in second chance points.
Warren, the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading scorer, finished with 23 points. Kyle Washington recorded a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds.
The Orange complete a home-and-home series with Boston College on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m.
(Courtesy: Syracuse University)