Syracuse Orange improve to 20-0 with win over Wake Forest

Like a handful of other times on the season, #2 Syracuse needed a late run Wednesday night to pull out a tight win, this time handing Wake Forest their first home loss of the season, 67-57. The victory pushed this year’s Orange squad into the team record books, tying the 2011-2012 team with a 20-0 mark on the season, and also gave them a pristine 7-0 ACC mark. As a result, Syracuse became the first team since North Carolina’s 1983-1984 and 1985-1986 squads to start two of three seasons at 20-0.

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Syracuse avoided a trap game against Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons (14-7, 4-4) were a tough out, stifling SU’s offense for large parts of the game. The Orange shot 36.2 percent on the night, but managed to hold the hosts to an even worse 34 percent mark from the field. The good news for Syracuse is they were able to hit nearly half their shots after the break as they secured the win.

On a night when both teams had problems finding the net, SU pounded the glass, outrebounding Wake, 55-35. The Orange chased down a lot of their misses, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds.

A couple possessions into the game, Tyler Ennis set up Rakeem Christmas for the game’s opening score with a nifty wraparound pass that led to a two-handed stuff. The SU offense did not look that nice again for a long time.

» Related: Leo Rautins says he’s impressed with current SU team

After the Orange scored a bucket on their next possession, their offense went into a deep freeze. Wake Forest ran off a 12-2 run where the lone Syracuse points came from the line, as SU missed their next 14 field goals in a span of nearly nine minutes.

Baye Moussa Keita stopped the Demon Deacon run with a pair of free throws shortly after the midpoint of the half. Those shots triggered a 15-2 burst in favor of the Orange and Keita made his mark throughout.

C.J. Fair made the first field goal of the stretch, splashing a three-pointer, then Keita slammed home a miss that put that tied the score at 13 a side. Keita swatted a Wake Forest shot on their next possession, resulting in a Michael Gbinije three-ball in transition that put SU out front. The senior center finished the burst with a lay-up that pushed the Orange lead to 21-14 with just over five minutes left in the half.

After Syracuse briefly stretched their led to eight, the two teams ground their way to the half. Wake got the final tally before the horn, getting a wide open three off a blown defensive assignment by Fair that drew the hosts within 26-23 at half and earned the SU senior some sharp words from coach Jim Boeheim on his way to the tunnel.

After a Wake basket trimmed the lead to a single point, a pair of SU baskets stretched the lead back to five points. From there, the two teams alternated scores until back-to-back field goals by Jerami Grant gave Syracuse a 40-32 lead with just over six minutes elapsed.

The Demon Deacons struck back with a three-pointer and a layup off the SU inbounds pass to get within three, but the Orange got past the moment and pushed the lead to 46-39 just after the ten-minute mark.

Syracuse kept Wake Forest at bay for the next several minutes, preserving the lead between five and eight points. They did so in spite of some offensive difficulties of their own by holding the Deacons without a field goal for over six-and-a-half minutes.

With two minutes to play and the Orange nursing a 56-49 lead, Trevor Cooney picked an excellent time to wake from his game long slumber and get into the scoring column. First, he hit a stepback baseline jumper to push the margin to nine, then after a Wake Forest charity shot, Cooney made a pair of his own, then added a dunk on an outlet pass after a Deacon turnover.

Cooney’s offensive burst took under a minute, but gave Syracuse a 62-50 lead with 1:18 left in the game. He and Ennis put the game away from there, combining to sink 5-of-6 at the line to hold off the hosts and secure the Orange victory.

There was one scary moment in that final minute, though, as Ennis turned an ankle while being fouled. The freshman point guard was able to finish the game, though.

As he has done so often in tight games already this season, Tyler Ennis was fantastic late, scoring 16 of his game-high 18 points in the second half. C.J. Fair added 16 points and nabbed three steals on defense for the Orange. Jerami Grant was the only other player to reach double figures in scoring, but added a dozen rebounds, including seven on the offensive end, to his ten points. Baye Moussa Keita was a spark plug for SU in the first half and finished with six points, eight rebounds, and five blocked shots. Rakeem Christmas joined Keita in the block party, swatting three shots.

» Related: Syracuse sits atop ACC in first season in conference

Only two players cracked double figures in scoring for Wake Forest. Both Travis McKie and Devin Thomas fnished with a dozen points.

Syracuse’s most anticipated of all matchups in their maiden season in the ACC is on Saturday when #17 Duke comes to the Carrier Dome. The Orange are expected to set a new attendance record at the Dome when the Blue Devils (17-4, 6-2) visit. Duke carries a five-game win streak into the game, the last four by a margin of at least 15 points.

Star freshman Jabari Parker leads Duke in scoring and rebounding, posting per-game marks of 18.8 points and 8.1 boards. Rodney Hood is right behind, hanging 17.4 points per outing.

It will be a 6:30pm tip on Jim Boeheim Court and ESPN will televise the game. The contest will also be available online at ESPN3.com or through the WatchESPN app. ESPN’s “College Gameday” will also be broadcasting live from the Dome earlier in the day.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
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