Syracuse improves to 4-0 in ACC with overtime win against Wake Forest

Rakeem Christmas scored a career-high 35 points in the win
Rakeem Christmas scored a career-high 35 points in the win

Monday afternoon, Syracuse found out they would be without the services of freshman forward Chris McCullough, as the injury he suffered in the Florida State game the previous evening was officially diagnosed as a torn ACL. Tuesday night at the Carrier Dome, the shortened Orange rotation passed their first test, winning a wild affair over Wake Forest in overtime, 86-83.

SU (13-4, 4-0 ACC) led the game by ten before the game was seven minutes old, but they would not be that prosperous for long. The Demon Deacons (9-9, 1-4) quickly wiped out the lead and would eventually grab a nine-point lead of their own early in the second half.

The Orange would lead by three late in the game after a pair of free throws, but a triple from the visitors tied the score and a missed lay-up by SU’s Michael Gbinije sent the game to extra time. Syracuse would not sew up their seventh straight win until they made 7-of-10 from the foul line in the final 43 seconds and the Deacons’ last-second halfcourt heave came off the rim.

SU benefited from valuing of the ball, gifting it to Wake only eight times while forcing 13 turnovers on defense and converting those miscues into 18 points. The Orange also continued their resurgence in three-point shooting, finishing 9-of-21 (42.9 percent) from beyond the arc in the game. That strong performance boosted the team’s performance to 32.6 percent on threes over the season and 40.4 percent over their last nine outings.

The Orange started the game strong, as Trevor Cooney hit a three in the first minute to open the scoring. After a pair of baskets for each squad, Rakeem Christmas came up with a steal and hit Kaleb Joseph for a transition slam and a 9-4 lead. After a Wake Forest free throw, Christmas wrapped a pair of dunks around two Cooney foul shots for a 15-5 lead with less than five minutes off the clock.

On the heels of each team matching a pair of scores, Wake Forest turned on the jets. The Demon Deacons exploded for a 14-2 run, capping the burst with nine consecutive points. With less then seven minutes left in the opening session, the visitors held their first lead of the night at 23-21.

Tyler Roberson got a jam to right the Syracuse ship, then Cooney splashed a three-pointer to put SU back on top. Wake responded with another run, this one being 7-1 in their favor for a 30-27 lead. Christmas led the charge back for the Orange, scoring twice to regain the lead and Roberson tacked on a jumper to make it six straight for the home squad.

A pair of Wake Forest baskets but them back on top by a single point, but Cooney drilled another triple to put Syracuse in front again. With just a couple seconds left on the clock, the Demon Deacons gained control of the ball and called a timeout. The break worked, as they were able to get another three before the buzzer to take a 37-36 halftime lead.

» Related: Cooney carries red-hot shooting into ACC play

With a couple minutes gone in the second half, Wake went off on another run to gain control of the game. The Deacons hit a trio of treys in just over a two-minute span to power an 11-2 run and take a 50-41 lead. The burst caused Jim Boeheim to spend a pair of timeouts to try to snap the visitors’ mojo.

The second timeout, in particular, worked. While the lone SU score in the Wake run came on the heels of the first Boeheim timeout, the Orange scored eight straight points out of the second one to slice the gap to a single point. After Christmas scored to stop the Deacons’ streak, Ron Patterson and Michael Gbinije each knocked down a triple to pull Syracuse within 50-49.

Wake Forest responded with six consecutive points, but Gbinije drained another three to trigger another SU run. Christmas scored twice inside around a Demon Deacon lay-up, then Roberson finished off the 9-2 run with a jump shot that tied the game at 58 with under seven minutes on the clock.

Wake scored the next four points to jump out front again. Cooney buried a three to wipe out most of the deficit, but the Deacons got one of their own to reinstate the four-point lead. Syracuse responded with six straight points this time, including another Cooney three that knotted the score and a Gbinije lay-in for a 67-65 Orange lead.

Wake Forest responded with a quick lay-in to tie the game again, but Christmas converted an offensive rebound into a pair of foul shots and a two-point SU lead with under two minutes to go. Following a Wake Forest free throw, Gbinije drained a pair of his own to put SU in front, 71-68, with 23 seconds remaining.

The Demon Deacons were not done, though, draining a triple to knot the game at 71 a side less than ten seconds later. Syracuse got a good look, but Gbinije’s lay-up did not go down in the final seconds, sending the game to overtime.

Undeterred by his miss, Gbinije started the scoring in the extra session with a free throw. Wake followed with a jumper that Christmas matched, then got a lay-up for a 75-74 lead. Gbinije then stepped up for SU, hitting a jumper, rebounding a missed Wake free throw, then knocking down a triple to give the Orange a 79-75 lead with just over two minutes on the clock.

Wake would not roll over, though, draining one-of-two at the stripe, then getting a lay-up to claw back within a single point. Coming out of an SU timeout, Roberson missed a jumper, but Christmas collected the board and was fouled. The senior center dropped both shots in for an 81-78 lead.

Cooney came up with a steal on the ensuing Wake Forest possession and Patterson was fouled. The sophomore, who was a woeful 2-of-6 at the stripe in the final minute at Virginia Tech, missed both shots. Wake took advantage, getting a lay-up to make it a one-point Orange lead.

The Deacons fouled again, this time sending Christmas to the line. And, again, he dropped in two more SU points for an 83-80 lead.

Boeheim opted to foul and, after Wake missed the front end of a one-and-one, Christmas rebounded again. Once again, the big man was fouled and, once again, he drilled both charity shots.

Trailing 85-80, Wake got a long three-pointer with five seconds remaining. This time, they were able to foul Cooney, who made only his second foul shot and SU held an 86-83 lead with just a couple ticks remaining.

Wake was able to turn those couple seconds into a half-court heave, but the shot rattled off the iron, giving the Orange the victory.

Rakeem Christmas had a career night, dominating the Demon Deacons for 35 points and falling one rebound shy of a double-double. Trevor Cooney lit up the scoreboard in clusters, hitting five threes as part of his 21-point night. Cooney also handed out five assists and pulled in four steals. Michael Gbnije had his second double-double in three games, overloading his stat line with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists. Tyler Roberson, who replaced Chris McCullough in the starting lineup, chipped in with a half dozen points and ten rebounds.

Wake Forest got a career game from Konstantinos Mitoglou, who shot 10-of-13 on the night as part of a 26-point explosion off the bench. Codi Miller-McIntyre nearly matched him, logging 24 points to go with six assists and six rebounds. Devin Thomas posted an 11-point, ten-rebound double-double prior to fouling out, and Darius Leonard chipped in eight points for the Demon Deacon cause.

SU will get a chance at some well-deserved recovery time before their next contest, which is Saturday at Clemson. The Tigers (9-7, 1-3) have lost three of their last four, all in conference play, and all to ranked teams. North Carolina, Louisville, and Virginia have all knocked off Clemson in that span.

The Tigers boast two double-digit scorers, led by forward Jaron Blossomgame, who averages 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Damarcus Harrison, who is Clemson’s top perimeter shooter, has made 26 treys on 40 percent shooting beyond the arc en route to averaging 10.4 points per outing. Donte Grantham and Rod Hall each average over nine points per game for the Tigers, as well.

Tip-off is slated for 4:00pm Eastern and the contest will be televised regionally, so please check your local listings. will also stream the game online.

For more Syracuse coverage, Like our Facebook page and follow us @TheJuiceOnline.

Avatar photo
About Jim Stechschulte 894 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by He currently resides in Syracuse.