Monday night, #8 Syracuse started their stay in Hawaii with a hard-fought 75-67 win over Minnesota in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. The Orange (5-0) used a big run to grab a 14-point lead early in the second half, then relied on their defense to hold off the Golden Gophers (5-1), including holding them without a field goal for over five minutes late in the game.
SU rode their defense after the break, holding Minnesota to under 38 percent shooting from the floor, including 3-of-11 from three-point range after allowing six deep balls in the first half. The Gophers, who rely on a pressing defense to create turnovers, were burned by some of their own sloppy offense, turning the ball over 19 times. The Orange punished them time and time again for their transgressions, converting those miscues into 26 points.
Trevor Cooney opened up the game with some hot shooting, hitting threes on both ends of a 12-2 Syracuse run to start the action. Minnesota responded by ramping up the tempo. The Orange became discombobulated on offense and the Gophers hit three triples as part of a 13-2 burst to take a one-point lead. SU used a pair of offensive rebound dunks, a putback from DaJuan Coleman and a flush from Jerami Grant, to retake the lead.
Shortly after, Cooney continued his hot shooting, finishing a string of seven unanswered Syracuse points with his fourth three-pointer for a 31-25 SU lead. After a Minnesota basket, C.J. Fair threw down a monstrous left-handed dunk, drawing a nasty cut under his right eye, but no whistle from the officials.
With Fair receiving medical attention on the bench, the Gophers took advantage of his absence, whittling the margin to 33-32 before the under-four media time out. After Fair’s return to the fray, Minnesota used a couple charity shots to take a one-point lead, but two straight buckets, the latter a ferocious putback from Rakeem Christmas, put the Orange back on top by three. Each team knocked down a pair of free throws in the half’s final ten seconds and SU led at the intermission, 39-36.
Just as he did to start the contest, Cooney opened the scoring in the second half with a three-pointer. The trey triggered a 13-2 Orange run to start the session, giving Syracuse their largest lead at 52-38 with just over four minutes elapsed.
The Gophers needed just over four minutes to trim the deficit down to four, outscoring SU 14-4 in that time. The Orange got the game’s next four points to get some breathing room, then focused on holding off their opponents.
Minnesota eventually used a pair of free throws to get within 67-65 with 2:14 left on the clock. Fair hit a short pull-up jumper to make it a four-point game, then a minute later, Grant buried both ends of a one-and-one for a 71-65 lead with 46.9 seconds remaining. With just under 20 seconds on the clock, Grant would knock down another pair at the line after a flagrant foul. Ennis followed those shots by burying two free throws of his own on the subsequent SU possession. The late work at the line had the Orange up 75-65 and the Gophers could only muster a meaningless lay-up in the waning seconds.
C.J. Fair posted his first double-double of the season, finishing with 16 points and ten rebounds for the Orange, both highs in the game. Trevor Cooney was right behind Fair, tallying 15 points on five three-point bombs. Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant each added a dozen points for SU. Ennis did most of his work on offense at the charity stripe, knocking down 10-of-11 free throws, and also had five steals on the defensive end.
Minnesota had three players in double figures, led by Malik Smith’s 16 points. Andre Hollins had 14 points, including ten in the first half, and Austin Hollins chipped in with 11.
The Orange move on to face California in the winner’s bracket on Tuesday. The Golden Bears (5-0) earned their place against SU by virtue of an 85-77 victory over Arkansas earlier in the day. Cal had five players score in double figures in their win Monday, including four players who topped 15 points, and dominated the boards, outrebounding the Razorbacks by a 48-32 margin.
In the most recent matchup between the two schools, SU eliminated Cal in the third round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, 66-60. Tip-off is set for 7:00pm Eastern and ESPN will handle the telecast.