People will likely remember Syracuse’s hard-fought 72-68 victory over No. 9 Florida on Friday for Scoop Jardine’s second-half heroics. Head coach Jim Boeheim even gave Jardine credit for the victory afterwards.
“Scoop won the game for us,” he said.
If not Jardine’s performance, fans might remember Brandon Triche’s 20 points, his clutch 3-pointer and his perfect shooting from the free throw line. Triche shot 9-for-9 from the stripe and iced the game down the stretch.
By comparison, forward CJ Fair had a relatively pedestrian nine points on 4-for-10 shooting.
Nonetheless, in the biggest contest of Syracuse’s young season, Fair was instrumental, providing the bench spark the Orange needed to come out on top in its first matchup against a marquee opponent.
“As bench players, I can’t really call them bench players, because they come in and they work so hard,” Triche said. “[Fair’s] energy, his length and his quickness helped us out, especially in the zone.”
Florida came into the night boasting the third-best offense in the nation, averaging just over 90 points per contest. But the Orange has been frustrating opponents all year with its quick, rangy defense, and tonight was no exception.
The Gators scored just 68 points on 45.6 percent shooting, and turned the ball over 20 times.
The Orange actually shot even worse, finishing the night at 40.6 percent. But Syracuse protected the ball, turning it over six fewer times than Florida, and outrebounded the Gators 40 to 33. As a result, the Orange put up seven more field goal attempts and 10 more free throws than their opponent.
In a game decided by a mere four points, extra possessions made the difference. And Fair, perhaps more than anybody else, was the one scrapping and fighting for those possessions.
He finished the night with a career-high 11 rebounds to lead the Orange. No other Syracuse player had more than five.
“I knew they were going to shoot a lot of 3s so I was always on the back side,” Fair said. “So I knew the majority of them were going to bounce my way.”
Fair did a superb job of boxing out against an undersized Florida interior, helping hold big man Patric Young to just five boards. He also helped offset a strong night on the glass from Florida’s much-hyped freshman guard Bradley Beal, who snagged 10 rebounds but shot just 2-for-9 from the field.
“I tried to just box out early, and then have great position to get it,” Fair said.
On a night when the Orange had difficulty putting the ball in the hoop, Fair also struggled from the field. He shot just 40 percent and missed his only 3-point attempt.
Still, despite his poor shooting, he showed flashes of his expanded range, especially his improved midrange game.
Fair, who was a good shooter in high school but struggled in his freshman season, spent time over the summer watching tape and correcting his form, which had changed as he developed upper-body strength.
“I was bringing the ball too far behind my head, and I was just trying to tighten my form up, and you can see it working,” he said. “I’ve got more confidence this year than last year.”
That has to be a welcome sign for the Orange, as Fair solidifies his role as a de facto starter off the bench. He played 31 minutes Friday, checking into the game for starter Rakeem Christmas just two minutes into the first half.
For the season, Fair is averaging 8.3 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds in 25 minutes per game, second-most on the Orange behind only star senior Kris Joseph.
In addition to his midrange game, Fair is shooting 50 percent from downtown.
That offensive punch is something that bodes well for the future of the Orange, both in their national title hopes this year, and next year when senior leaders Jardine and Joseph will have graduated.
“He was able to knock down tough little midrange shots [tonight],” Triche said. “That’s his game. His midrange [game] is awesome.”