NEW YORK — Syracuse rallied late and then hung on to defeat St. John’s 68-63 in the Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon. Here are a few thoughts from the game:
GRANT IS A HUMAN HIGHLIGHT REEL
It’s almost become customary to have your breath taken away by a feat of athleticism from Jerami Grant. We’ve already been treated to his head-above-the-rim-athleticism against California in the Maui Invitational and Indiana in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. So it was only logical that under the bright lights of New York City and Madison Square Garden, Grant would dazzle us with a pair of gravity defying plays.
The first play game with 2:33 in the first half with Grant receiving the ball at the 3-point line extended. He drove left, beating Max Hooper off the dribble. Red Storm forward Orlando Sanchez slid in the lane to help and seemed to be poised for a block, but in mid air, Grant switched hands, and threw down an emphatic right-handed slam. He was embraced by CJ Fair right after the play. “We just laughed,” Grant said about his conversation with Fair. “We always laugh at any great plays each other makes.”
The second came with :33 seconds and the Orange up 5. St. John’s forward JaKarr Sampson barreled down the lane and gathered himself in prelude to what he anticipated to be a vicious dunk. But he was met in the paint by Grant, who rose up with both hands to deny Sampson, drawing an raucous reaction from the crowd while simultaneously deflating any hope St. John’s had of tying the game.
That athleticism has made Grant one of the regulars on highlight packages. “He might be the No. 1 top 10 college player (on SportsCenter’s Top 10),” forward Michael Gbinije said. “He’s definitely up there.”
FAIR CLUTCH, AGAIN
It’s a rare luxury to have a player with Fair’s skill set and experience in college basketball today. Fair was clutch in Syracuse’s win over Baylor to win the Maui Invitational, and his late game heroics helped push the Orange to victory on Sunday. With Syracuse trailing by 2 with 6:53 in the second half, Fair took a pass from Tyler Ennis on the right baseline and calmly sank a mid-range jumper to tie the game.
Syracuse would run nearly the identical play two more times, with the same predictable results. Each time, Fair was camped about 15 feet away from the basket. And each time, Fair would calmly drain the jumper. The second jumper swished through with 3:00 minutes left to give the Orange a 64-60 lead.
Fair’s third jumper put the Orange up 5, and gave SU control of a tightly contested game. He finished with 21 points, and further cemented himself as the top offensive choice with the game on the line. “I’m looked upon to deliver. I want to be there for my team,” Fair said. “If it comes a situation like today where we needed a couple of buckets, it was a good boost.”
ENNIS CONTINUES TO IMPRESS
There were stretches in the second half where freshman guard Tyler Ennis played like, well, a freshman. With the game tied at 58 with 5:54 left, Ennis rushed a 3-pointer early in the shot clock that turned into a 3-on-1 break for St. John’s. Ennis compounded his folly by fouling Sanchez while he hit a layup (he would miss the free throw). But from that point on, Ennis was spectacular in his college Garden debut, finishing with 21 points, 6 assists and just 2 turnovers.
Ennis immediately atoned for his faux pas on Sanchez, scoring the next four Syracuse points as SU took a 62-60 lead with 4:11 left after his diving layup. If it wasn’t CJ Fair making clutch baskets, it was Ennis. The two scored all of Syracuse’s points in the final seven minutes of the game. “As a freshman point guard, he’s playing better than anyone,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “If he played like a normal freshman, we’d be 7-3 right now.”