For the second straight night, #8 Syracuse used a second half run to create a large enough cushion to hold on for a victory, this time knocking off #18 Baylor to win the EA Sports Maui Invitational championship game by a 74-67 score. The Orange (7-0) posted ten straight points to stretch a four-point lead to fourteen with just over five minutes on the clock and never let the gap shrink to less than six until the game’s waning seconds.
Turnovers told the tale as SU only gave up the ball seven times while forcing the Bears (6-1) to cough it up 20, converting those miscues into two dozen points. Syracuse’s aggressive defensive effort helped offset a 33-21 rebounding deficiency.
C.J. Fair, whose strong performance helped secure the tournament’s Most Valuable Player honor, got the Orange off to a quick start. Fair started the game by connecting on a long jump shot, then set up Tyler Ennis for a three-pointer and buried a trey of his own. The forward’s sizzling start helped SU out to a quick 10-2 lead.
Baylor quickly righted their ship, scoring 14 of the game’s next 18 points to grab a 16-14 lead. Syracuse came right back at the Bears, knocking down their next seven shots. The first four shots were unanswered, giving the Orange a lead they would hold for the rest of the game. Jerami Grant had three of those four baskets, as well as the final one in that span of seven consecutive made field goals, converting a three-point play that put SU on top by a 30-18 score with 8:40 left in the half.
With the Orange having made 13-of-16 field goal attempts to start the game, they were likely to regress for the remainder of the half. While they did briefly nudge the lead to 13 points, regress they did, making only three baskets the rest of the opening half. Baylor took advantage of the SU scoring drought, climbing back within six points with under two minutes on the clock. Grant got the final score of the half, as his lay-up pushed Syracuse to a 38-30 halftime lead.
After Baylor got within a half dozen points three minutes out of the break, the Orange scored six points in 90 seconds. The burst triggered a 12-4 run that propelled SU to its largest lead of the game at 54-40.
The Bears did not go into hibernation, though, ringing up eight unanswered points in under two minutes to clip the lead and draw a timeout from Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. After a Fair jumper stopped the bleeding, Baylor tacked on a pair of putbacks, pulling within 56-52 with under eight minutes remaining.
Grant, who made the all-tournament team, officially stopped the Baylor momentum with a three-point-play. He would add another one as part of the decisive 10-0 run for the Orange, who regained a 14-point margin with five minutes on the clock.
Baylor again fought back, following a pair of threes with a short jump shot after the under-four media time out. The burst drew the Bears within 66-60 with just over three minutes to go.
Fair buried a jumper for a little more breathing room, but an alley-oop drew Baylor within six again. Fair dropped in another jump shot to make it 70-62. After a Bears turnover, they opted to employ full court pressure, then fouled Ennis. The freshman point guard missed the front end of the one-and-one and Baylor scored to get back within six.
Baylor opted to not to foul and when an Ennis lay-up twirled off the rim, the Bears had a chance to cut the margin to three. Ennis, however, had other plans, stripping a Baylor driver on his way to the basket. He then dove on the loose ball and called a time out, preserving the possession for SU.
Trevor Cooney was fouled after the inbounds pass and knocked down both free throws to stretch the Orange lead to 72-64. A Baylor three clipped the lead five and they fouled Ennis again, hoping for a repeat of his earlier performance at the line. Ennis coolly dropped in both charity shots and, when a pair of desperation threes did not go home for Baylor, giving Syracuse a 74-67 win and the tournament title.
C.J. Fair led all scorers in the game, rolling up 24 points en route to tournament MVP honors. Jerami Grant for the second straight night piled up 19 points in a reserve role, giving SU an offensive charge. Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis each chipped in with 11 points, the latter also handing out nine assists and grabbing four steals in the game.
Baylor had a balanced attack, as five players scored in double figures. Cory Jefferson paced the Bears with 15 points and snared a game-high eight rebounds. Kenny Chery and Brady Heslip each had a dozen points, Heslip hitting four treys. Isaiah Austin and Royce O’Neale chipped in with 11 and ten points, respectively.
Following their long journey back to Syracuse, the Orange will host Indiana on Tuesday night as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Hoosiers will bring a 6-1 record into the game, the only blemish coming in a 59-58 loss to Connecticut last Friday. IU is led by guard Yogi Ferrell, who is averaging over 18 points a game, and freshman Noah Vonleh who is averaging a double-double of 12.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per contest.
The Orange last met the Hoosiers in last year’s NCAA Tournament and SU took home the win in their Sweet Sixteen contest by a 61-50 score. The action starts at 7:15pm and the contest will be televised on ESPN, as well as streamed online at ESPN3.com.
Most Valuable Player
• C.J. Fair – Syracuse (18.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 6 stls, 3 asts, 1 blk)
2013 EA SPORTS Maui Invitational All-Tournament Team
1) Kevin Pangos – Gonzaga (26.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 12 asts, 4 stls)
2) Jerami Grant – Syracuse (16.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5 asts)
3) Devin Oliver – Dayton (15.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 10 asts, 4 stls)
4) Cory Jefferson – Baylor (13.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 6 blks, 1 ast)
5) Justin Cobbs – California (21.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 16 asts, 6 stls, 2 blks)