After being so resilient for much of the early season, Syracuse struggled down the stretch at Wake Forest, dropping a 73-67 decision Wednesday night. The Orange (12-3, 1-1 ACC) were knotted up at 61 with the Demon Deacons (8-6, 1-1) after a pair of Frank Howard free throws with 2:27 on the clock, but had four empty possessions that put them in a five-point hole from which they could not escape.
The first possession was a fast break where a trailing Tyus Battle got an open three-point shot, but missed and the Deacons took advantage, turning the rebound into a fast break lay-up. Battle drove on the next possession, but stepped on the baseline. Wake converted on the ensuing possession with a floater for a 65-61 lead.
Frank Howard’s leaner would not fall for SU, then Battle missed the front end of a one-and-one. The Demon Deacons would get a foul shot for a 66-61 lead with 43 seconds left and Syracuse would not get closer than two points the rest of the way.
For the first time all season, the Orange got beaten up on the boards, being outrebounded 38-29 overall, including by a 24-14 margin in the second half. Nine of those Wake Forest second half rebounds were on the offensive end and all came in the first nine minutes after halftime. The Deacs converted those extra opportunities into seven of the 11 points they scored in that span to stay in the game.
With the two squads tied in the early minutes, Wake Forest had the better of play for a six minute stretch, starting with a dunk and a three-pointer to trigger a 14-6 burst to take a 20-12 lead with a little over eight minutes elapsed. The Demon Deacons then kept Syracuse at bay for the next six minutes.
But, with a little more than six minutes left in the first half, the Orange offense came to life. Tyus Battle got things going with long jumper from the right side, then Oshae Brissett converted a lay-up off a spin move. Frank Howard flipped in a lay-in of his own, then penetrated and slipped a bounce pass to a cutting Matthew Moyer for a reverse lay-up and a 25-25 tie.
Howard tossed a lob to Paschal Chukwu, who came down to gather the ball, then dunked for an Orange lead. Chukwu then got a short jumper off an offensive rebound to fall to make it 12 straight SU points and a 29-25 lead with under a minute left in the opening half.
Wake struck back with a three, but Howard answered by using a screen to create a little space, then rattling down his own triple from the left wing for a 32-29 lead that held up at halftime.
The Demon Deacons tied the score a couple times early in the second half, but a pair of Chukwu free throws and a two-handed slam by Moyer off a Howard bounce pass gave Syracuse a 38-34 lead with over five minutes gone. The hosts tied the game, but Brissett and Howard both made two free throws to reinstate the four-point gap.
Shortly after that, Wake Forest reclaimed the lead with a pair of threes, but the Orange replied with seven straight points. Howard was the driving force of the SU push, starting with a swished three from the left wing. Howard then shoveled a pass to Chukwu for a slam and capped the run with a contested jumper from inside the arc for a 51-46 lead with under seven minutes to go.
The Demon Deacons responded by getting hot from three-point range, specifically the left corner in front of their bench. Wake got three triples from that spot in under two minutes for a 9-2 burst that boosted them back in front by a 55-53 margin.
Battle replied with a trey that nudged Syracuse back in front, then Brissett hit one from the top of the key a couple trips later that tied the game at 59 with just under 3:30 on the clock. Each team added two foul shots in the next minute to set the scene for the tight finish.
After Wake Forest grabbed a five-point lead, Brissett wiped much of it out with a three-point play off an offensive rebound with 34.3 seconds left. Facing a 66-64 deficit, the Orange were forced to foul. The first stoppage led to two WF free throws and a four-point margin.
Howard made an ill-advised pass that was stolen and Brissett committed an intentional foul. Both foul shots missed, but the ensuing possession led to one good Wake free throw and a 69-64 score. Howard redeemed his error on the following possession, bringing the ball upcourt and swishing a three off the left wing with 17.1 seconds to go, forcing a Demon Deacon timeout.
This time, SU fouled and the hosts cashed in both shots. Down four, Battle forced a long three that only got the very front of the rim. Wake Forest rebounded and again drew a whistle, this one with 7.4 seconds to play. Two more foul shots went on the scoreboard and the Orange left the floor with their first conference loss.
Frank Howard paced all scorers with 23 points, including burying five three-pointers in the game. Oshae Brissett rang up 16 points, including a dozen after halftime, while Tyus Battle had 13 points, but struggled through a 4-of-12 shooting performance, including 1-of-7 from deep. Paschal Chukwu added ten points and also blocked four shots in the game.
Bryant Crawford led Wake Forest with 19 points, hitting four triples for the bulk of his damage. Terrence Thompson added 13 points while Mitchell Wilbekin hit a trio of treys for most of his ten points and also handed out a game-high eight assists. Doral Moore chipped in with eight points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Syracuse will return home on Saturday to face a shorthanded Notre Dame team. The Fighting Irish (12-3, 2-0) will be without All-American forward Bonzie Colson, who earlier this week suffered a fracture in his foot that is expected to sideline him for eight weeks.
Colson leads the Irish with 21.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, but missed Wednesday night’s game against North Carolina State. The absence was scarcely noticed, though, as Notre Dame rained down 11 three-pointers in an 88-58 victory, their fourth win in a row.
Even without Colson, Matt Farrell and T.J. Gibbs form a dangerous duo for Notre Dame, as they combine for over 30 points per game and both have made over 34 three-pointers on the season while shooting better than 40 percent from long range.
The Orange and the Irish will duke it out in a Saturday matinee, as tip-off is set for 3:15pm Eastern. ESPN2 will televise the game and the telecast will also be available online at ESPN3.com.
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