It was Syracuse ball coming out of a timeout with 14:10 left in the second half of Syracuse’s game against Rutgers on Saturday, and the Orange was trailing 51-48.
SU coach Jim Boeheim diagrammed a play, and Brandon Triche took a 3-pointer that caromed off the rim. CJ Fair collected the offensive rebound and calmly dropped in a layup plus a foul.
Fair would add the free throw, tying the game at 51. The basket ended a two-minute scoring drought for the Orange and sparked a 9-0 run.
The play typifies Fair’s impact on the Orange this season.
“I’ve gotten opportunities to get out there,” Fair said to reporters after the game. “I’m just improving.”
His improvement has been dramatic and necessary.
Without Fair’s season high 17 points and eight rebounds, the Orange wouldn’t have pulled out a 84-80 overtime win against the Scarlet Knights.
Most of those points came on broken plays and garbage points, as Fair rarely has plays called for him on offense.
Not to say that Fair minds. He needed only eight shots (he hit six of them) to get to 17.
Fair has learned to be crafty inside the paint, with a lefty shot that is nearly automatic from 15 feet and in. He’s also proven to be a reliable rebounder and adept shot blocker on defense.
In the last four games, Fair has averaged 12.0 points and 6.2 rebounds, shooting 20-for-32 from the field.
It has allowed Fair to become a major cog in Boeheim’s ever-shrinking rotation.
“That’s just the type of player he is,” Rick Jackson said to reporters after Saturday’s game. “He does the little things.”
The Baltimore native came in with little fanfare compared to the enormous expectations of McDonald’s All American and preseason Big East Freshman of the Year Fab Melo and Dion Waiters. He also lacked the pedigree of Baye Moussa Keita, who attended Oak Hill Academy.
It didn’t help that Fair hurt his ankle at the end of non-conference play.
But his opportunity came when Kris Joseph went down with a head injury on Jan. 15 against Cincinnati. Joseph was unavailable for the next game against Pittsburgh and James Southerland started in his place.
But it was Fair who ended up playing the majority of Joseph’s minutes.
Fair logged 36 of floor time against Pittsburgh and scored 16 points and had nine rebounds.
“He’s come a long way,” Jackson said.
Since then, Southerland, Waiters and Fab Melo have played themselves out of the rotation.
In Saturday’s game, the four returning rotation players from last year’s team (Joseph, Triche, Jackson and Scoop Jardine) each logged more than 40 minutes. Fair followed closely behind with 37 minutes. After that? Keita — who started — had 11.
No one else logged double-digit time.
The rotation, once thought to be as high as nine players, has now become six.
Needless to say, Fair has earned Boeheim’s trust.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Boeheim said during his post game press conference on Saturday.
He’s said as much to Fair.
“Coach says I should be out there,” Fair said. “He’s sticking with me.”