CJ Fair has stepped up during a time when Syracuse has been stumbling.
The freshmen forward has picked up his play since Syracuse’s first loss of the season against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17. In that game, plus the seven games since, Syracuse has only won two of games, but Fair has been a bright spot.
During that stretch, he’s averaging 8.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. Syracuse will need Fair to continue that kind of play as it hosts West Virginia on Monday at the Carrier Dome.
“He’s played steady,” SU coach Jim Boeheim said. “Really steady for us all year.”
Fair was downright spectacular in Syracuse’s loss against Pittsburgh.
Playing without starting forward Kris Joseph, who was out with a concussion, Fair played 36 minutes and scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds as Syracuse lost 74-66.
It proved to be the turning point in Fair’s season. Prior to that game, Fair had only played an average of seven minutes over his previous seven games.
Now, Fair has the trust of Boeheim, who has played the Baltimore native nearly 30 minutes over the past three games, including 33 minutes in Saturday’s 73-69 loss.
Fair responded with 11 points and had seven rebounds.
“I felt more comfortable out there on the court,” Fair said. “Just getting used to playing more minutes, contributing any way I can out there.”
Fair is the closest thing the Orange has to a garbage man. Many of Fair’s points come on broken plays or rebounds. Fair has also proven to be an excellent weak-side shot blocker, as he’s averaged two blocks over his past five games.
More recently, Syracuse has been featuring Fair on offense, having him come off of a curl on the right block to feature a lefty flip shot in the paint, similar to another player who wore No. 5 at SU: Josh Pace.
Fair has been nearly automatic with that shot, playing like a seasoned veteran.
“We’re 20-plus games in,” Fair said. “We’re not considered freshmen anymore.”
But even with Fair’s recent success, it’s still been a frustrating couple of weeks. The Orange is quickly fading in the Big East standings and may have to fight for an NCAA Tournament birth come March.
“We just have to move forward,” Fair said. “Before you know it, the season is going to be over. We have to get as many wins as we can so we can get a bid in the tournament.”
Brad Bierman contributed to this article.Wesley Cheng