With Syracuse and Buffalo playing to the wire, freshman forward Oshae Brissett made all the difference.
The Bulls had erased a 13-point second half deficit and took a 67-66 lead with 3:31 to go as a tense Carrier Dome crowd looked on. The Orange eventually prevailed, 81-74, and Brissett was a big reason why.
“Defensively [Buffalo] is really good. They’re the first team all year that wouldn’t let Tyus [Battle] get anything,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “We talked to Oshae. This is one of those games where you have to go to the basket, and he just took it to the basket. That’s what he does best.”
While Buffalo may have limited Batle to 13 points, Brissett proved more than capable of stepping up during a tight game.
“Every team now is probably going to key in on [Battle], they know he is a great scorer,” Brissett said. “If they do that […] it’s on Frank [Howard] and me to get the scoring done.”
Over the past few games, Brissett has shown off his potential as a leading scorer for the Orange. Coming off a career-high 25 point game at Georgetown on Saturday, Brissett came through again for the Orange with another 25 points against Buffalo.
Shooting 4-11 from the field, including one 3-pointer, Brissett racked up the bulk of his points from the foul line.
Brissett made 16-16 shots at the foul line, setting a Carrier Dome record. The clutch foul shooting was especially important for the Orange in the final minute of the game.
Although in possession of a narrow lead, the Orange remained in danger of an upset as Buffalo continued to make shots from beyond the arc. With the margin narrowed to as close as four, the Bulls fouled Brissett three times in 30 seconds.
With a close score and the game potentially on the line, Brissett remained perfect on all six foul shots. For Brissett, the pressure of the situation was not an overwhelming factor.
“I just keep on working. Every day I get extra shots at the free throw line before practice and after practice,” Brissett said. “I’m just staying composed. At the end of the game, those free throws are big. If I miss those, it’s a closer game, so it’s practicing and going up there and shooting like I’m by myself in the gym.”
Brissett also made his presence felt elsewhere on the court, stuffing the stat sheet with eight rebounds and three assists. Three of his rebounds came in the closing minutes as the Orange looked to make a defensive stand against a late Buffalo rally.
The freshman’s level of play comes as no surprise to his teammates who have seen him develop as a player throughout the season.
“I saw [Brissett] play over the summer and saw him continue to get better. I’m not surprised at all,” Battle said. “He attacks, he got to the line a ton and put pressure on the defense. That’s what we need him to do.”
As the season progresses, Brissett sees the pressure of close games like the one against Buffalo as building the team’s confidence before entering ACC play.
“We were down against Georgetown and in this game. We know what it takes now to get past that hump,” Brissett said. “We have to stay composed and listen to the game plan. Once we are able to execute the game plan, everything works out.”