Sunday afternoon, Jerami Grant returned from his back injury, making #7 Syracuse look like the team that ran off 25 straight wins to start the season as they blew out Florida State late on the road, 74-58. Grant, who had logged 26 minutes combined against Maryland and Virginia before missing the Georgia Tech game, played 35 minutes in his return, opening up the floor for a much more proficient attack for the Orange (27-4, 14-4 ACC).
Grant’s presence prevented FSU from packing in the interior, opening up the basket area. The Orange shot 48.3 percent from the field in the game, including making half their field goals in the second half, and destroyed the hosts on the glass, holding a 43-24 edge on the boards, including 17 offensive rebounds.
The Seminoles (18-12, 9-9), who likely would have been on the cusp of sewing up an NCAA Tournament berth with a win, used a 9-2 run to get within a single point seven-and-a-half minutes into the second half, but were outscored by SU by a 27-12 margin to end the game.
After Florida State opened the game with a basket, SU scored the next seven points to start a 10-2 run, capped by a Tyler Ennis three-pointer and a Jerami Grant three-point-play. The Seminoles came back with a run of their own, this one a 12-4 advantage, to grab a 16-14 lead just past the midpoint of the half.
Three free throws gave the Orange the lead, but a bucket gave it back to FSU. Two more shots from the line and a jumper put SU out front by three.
After the Seminoles scored to get within one, Syracuse rattled off ten straight points. Ennis was a force in transition, scoring twice on the break, then adding another transition lay-up while getting fouled. His free throw capped the burst and gave SU a 31-20 lead with less than two minutes on the clock.
Florida State closed the half on a 7-2 run, sending the game to intermission at 33-27 in favor of the Orange.
The Seminoles opened the second half scoring with a jump shot, but C.J. Fair posted two perimeter baskets of his own to put SU up by eight. The two squads alternated scores for the next several minutes, but FSU ended that trend with four straight foul shots and a jumper that closed the SU lead to 47-46 with just over seven minutes elapsed.
Trevor Cooney broke the stretch by hitting threes on consecutive possessions, then a Grant free throw stretched the Syracuse lead to eight. A pair of Seminole foul shots ended that streak, but Ennis dropped in two charity shots and Grant completed another three-point-play, making it a 12-2 run that stretched the Orange lead to 59-48 with under 7:30 to play.
A Florida State three chopped the margin to eight, but SU got a jumper from Fair and a lay-in from Grant to take a 12-point lead, the biggest of the game, with 5:41 remaining. The two squads traded scores for the next couple minutes, then Rakeem Christmas snuck behind the FSU defense for a wide-open dunk, putting the Orange in front, 71-56, with under two minutes to play.
After FSU got a bucket, Fair capped the game by drilling a three with the shot clock winding down, closing the scorebook with just under a minute left.
C.J. Fair played a machine-like offensive game, knocking down 9-of-13 shots as he piled up 22 points and collected four steals. Fair was a killer in the second half, missing only one of his eight shots as he rolled up 15 points after the break. Jerami Grant had 16 points and a team-high eight rebounds in his return. Tyler Ennis matched Grant’s 16 points, scoring a dozen in the first half, and also had three steals. Rakeem Christmas aided the Orange cause with a dozen points.
Okaro White paced Florida State with a double-double, tallying 20 points and 11 rebounds. Ian Miller added 16 points while Aaron Thomas chipped in with 14.
By virtue of their second place finish in their inaugural season of ACC play, Syracuse earned a double-bye in the conference tournament. While the tourney gets underway on Wednesday, the Orange do not enter postseason play until Friday’s quarterfinal round.
While SU’s opponent will not be known until Thursday evening (they will play 7-seed North Carolina State, 10-seed Miami (Fla.), or 15-seed Virginia Tech), their contest will get underway at 7:00pm Eastern. ESPN2 holds the broadcast rights for the game, which will also be available online at ESPN3.com or through the WatchESPN app.
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