Syracuse hit 23 shots from the field during Friday’s 77-60 win over Indiana State in the second round of the NCAA tournament. But none was bigger than the shot CJ Fair hit with 15:41 left in the second half.
Although the Orange went into halftime with a 38-30 lead, Indiana State roared out of intermission and used a 8-3 run to pull to within 42-38 after Jake Odum made two free throws. The Cleveland crowd started sensing an upset and rose to its feet.
Syracuse called a play for Rick Jackson, but the Sycamores cut off Jackson inside. That opened up a lane for Fair, who drove and hit a short jumper in the paint to give Syracuse a much needed basket.
“He made a huge play when it was a four-point game,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “And I think that was kind of the play. We got six, then we got a steal and got eight, then to ten.”
Fair’s basket settled Syracuse down, and was the first hoop of a 9-0 run. The Orange would cap that run with a Jackson slam to give the Orange a 51-38 lead with 11:51 left.
SU was never seriously threatened after that.
Fair finished as Syracuse’s second leading scorer with 14 points, taking just five shots to get there. He also added seven rebounds and an emphatic rejection of Myles Walker as Walker attempted a dunk.
“You almost don’t notice it until you get the stat sheet,” Boeheim said. “He’s been good all year. He just does what he does. He gets in the right spots, and he’s a very good basketball player.”
That is how much of Fair’s season has been — understated, but with great impact.
“I know I have to be a good contributor to the team be it points, rebounds, anyway to give us a boost,” Fair said. “Fortunately today, it was scoring points and getting in double figures. You never know, the next game I might just five points and 12 rebounds. You never know.”
The next game is right around the corner as the Orange play conference rival Marquette in the third round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday.
This is just the second time in school history that Syracuse has faced a Big East opponent in the NCAA tournament. The first time was in 1987 during the Final Four against Providence.
Marquette won the only matchup between these two teams this season, a 76-70 win on Jan. 29.
“We know their game, they know our game,” Fair said. “It’s going to be harder. They execute and beat us [earlier in the year]. We’re going to have to come together.”
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