Friday night, Syracuse’s first ACC Tournament appearance ended in disappointment, as their offensive issues surfaced again and they dropped a 66-63 decision to North Carolina State in the quarterfinals. The Orange (27-5) shot 32.7 percent from the field, including under 26 percent in the first half, en route to the loss.
Six of those missed field goals came on SU’s final possession, as they looked nothing like the team that had been poised down the stretch in winning many close games earlier in the season. That final possession encapsulated the poor shooting night of the Orange, as C.J. Fair made only 3-of-16 shots (two of which were dunks in the game’s opening minutes) and Trevor Cooney went 1-of-6, including a pair of rushed three-point heaves in the waning seconds.
The Wolfpack (21-12) gave their NCAA Tournament hopes a big boost by avenging their 56-55 loss at Syracuse less than four weeks earlier. Just like in that game, SU point guard Tyler Ennis was whistled late in the game for a charging call, only this time N.C. State was able to hold on following the foul.
The Orange defense also faltered often during the game, allowing the ‘Pack to get into the middle of their 2-3 zone. The result was a 46 percent field goal percentage rate for North Carolina State, who made half their shots in the second half.
The Wolfpack jumped out to an early 6-3 lead, Jerami Grant made a nifty reverse lay-up to trigger an 8-1 run for SU. C.J. Fair came up with a steal that he took the distance for a dunk to put the Orange in front and Baye Moussa Keita knocked down a pair of free throws to end the run with Syracuse holding an 11-7 lead.
NC State broke a field goal drought of almost 6:30 by scoring on three straight possessions to re-take the lead at 13-11. On the last of those scores, Trevor Cooney turned his ankle and had to leave the game. Syracuse ended a field goal dry streak of their own at just shy of six minutes when Jerami Grant scored on an acrobatic finish in the paint, tying the game with just under eight minutes left in the half.
Two free throws gave the Wolfpack the lead again, but Cooney re-entered the game and promptly hit a three-pointer from the left corner to put SU in front. On the ensuing N.C. State possession, Tyler Ennis swiped a long inbounds pass from the baseline and cruised in for a stuff and an 18-15 lead.
North Carolina State responded with a three and a jumper to go out front again, but three Syracuse foul shots gave them a 21-20 lead. After each team got a jumper, State again put a three and a jump shot back-to-back. Those two scores gave N.C. State a 27-23 lead.
Ennis made a pair of free throws to halve the lead, but the ‘Pack got one back to go up, 28-25, with under 30 seconds left. The Orange held the ball for the final shot of the half, but Fair could not hit a short jumper in the lane and a tip attempt also missed, sending SU to the locker room down three.
When the second half started, Syracuse quickly got within a single point twice, but N.C. State again went up by four. The Orange scored six of the game’s next eight points to tie the score at 35 a side with less than four minutes elapsed.
Shortly after that, North Carolina State went on a 13-3 run to take their biggest lead of the game at 50-40 with just over 11 minutes remaining. Ennis led Syracuse on a 7-2 run to halve the gap, getting a steal to set up a fastbreak jam by Michael Gbinije, then hitting a triple of his own to end the burst.
The Wolfpack got a three to go up by eight points, but again Ennis led the charge, making a spinning fadeaway off a drive and another triple. When Grant threw an alley-oop that Rakeem Christmas jammed home, SU trailed, 55-54, with 5:23 to play.
State knocked down two fouls shots, but the Orange got a pair from Grant, then another set from Ennis out of the under-four media timeout, the latter giving Syracuse their first lead of the second half at 58-57. Ennis continued to steer the ship for SU, coming up with a loose ball and leading a fast break that resulted in a free throw by Fair.
North Carolina State clawed back into the game, first by knotting the score at 59 on a pair of free throws, then banking home a three-pointer for the lead. Grant stuck a jumper to pull the Orange within 62-61 with two minutes left, but the ‘Pack answered with one of their own to go up by three again.
Ennis was called for a foul on the ensuing SU possession, but the Wolfpack gave it right back when the Orange forced a jump ball. Ennis took another crack at the lead, but his jumper missed and State rebounded.
With the shot clock fading on N.C. State’s possession, Rakeem Christmas raced out to the corner to block a jump shot. The Orange pushed the ball upcourt and Gbinije sliced into the lane to a lay-up that drew SU within 64-63.
Syracuse deployed their full court press and fouled with 25 seconds left. Two free throws later, the Wolfpack held a 66-63 lead.
And then the Orange lost their heads.
Ennis raced upcourt and drove to the bucket, but his lay-up missed. Grant soared in from the weak side for a tip dunk attempt, but the ball went off the heel of the rim.
Cooney tracked down the long rebound and shoveled it to Ennis, who missed a three. The Orange again got the ball and Cooney missed a three of the side of the backboard, but Syracuse got the ball again.
Fair tried an open three from the right corner, but that missed, as well. Cooney got another try, but his off-balance three missed everything. Fair tracked the ball down near the right corner, but stepped on the baseline when trying to save the ball, giving possession to the ‘Pack with 1.3 seconds left.
After a timeout, State threw a long inbounds pass and simply touched ball, starting the clock and running out the game.
Tyler Ennis paced the Orange with 21 points, but needed 18 field goal attempts, making only six. He also had seven assists and nabbed four steals. Jerami Grant posted his seventh double-double of the year with 19 points and a game-high ten rebounds. While limited by foul trouble, Rakeem Christmas had three blocked shots.
ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren led the Wolfpack with 28 points and eight rebounds. Jordan Vandenburg chipped in with ten points by making all five of his field goal tries and Ralston Turner added nine points.
Sunday evening, Syracuse will find out their seed, opponent, and destination in the NCAA Tournament.