Syracuse Drops Another
A month ago, Syracuse was unbeaten, ranked No. 1 and riding high. Now, the Orange are struggling toward the postseason having lost four of five.
Trae Golden scored 16 points, including six clutch free throws in the final seconds, and Georgia Tech stunned No. 7 Syracuse 67-62 on Tuesday night, the Orange's second straight home loss to a team with a sub-.500 record.
Syracuse (26-4, 13-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) started the season with 25 straight wins and spent three weeks at No. 1.
"I'm not happy with tonight, but I'm very happy to be 26-4," coach Jim Boeheim said. "We're well ahead of predictions. We just have to regroup.
"I try to look at the big picture and not snapshots. We're in good position. When you get in the (NCAA) tournament, you're going to play somebody good. You play good, you have a chance to win. You play well, seeding doesn't matter. It's as simple as that."
Last season, Syracuse stumbled down the stretch of the regular season, losing four of its final five games, the last a humbling 61-39 loss at former Big East archrival Georgetown. The Orange responded by winning three straight games in the Big East tournament, losing to eventual national champion Louisville in the title game, and then went on to the Final Four.
"It didn't end the way I wanted it to," said C.J. Fair, who matched his career high with 28 points in the final home game of his career. "It happened, but our season's not over. I still have a chance to win my last game."
Golden won it with some clutch free throw shooting in the final 35 seconds.
"I kind of went back to when I was a kid and just knocked them in," said Golden, who was 8 of 8 from the line. "My dad used to make me nervous when I was younger. It made me think about that calm. It really helped me out."
Georgia Tech (14-16, 5-12) snapped a four-game losing streak, and its previous five ACC road trips had produced two wins, an overtime loss, a three-point loss, a four-point loss and a 10-point loss.
Getting healthier by the day, the Yellow Jackets, who at one point in the season had only seven scholarship players available, closes the regular season against Virginia Tech on Saturday with the conference tournament looming next week.
"Big might be an understatement. It's a huge win for us," Golden said. "We beat one of the top teams in the country."
The loss cost the Orange a great chance to lock up a high seed in the conference tournament.
Jerami Grant, the Orange's leading rebounder, had been hobbled by back problems the past two games and watched in street clothes as freshman Tyler Roberson made his first start of the season. Grant's absence was felt as only Fair and freshman Tyler Ennis, with 18 points, scored in double figures.
"Not having him, he's a big part of our team," Fair said of Grant. "It could have been a different game if he was there. You never know, but it's a big blow to the team."
Georgia Tech had 18 assists and shot 24 of 51 from the field while committing only nine turnovers.
"I thought our guys did a great job of executing the game plan in terms of taking care of the basketball, moving the basketball, getting it underneath the zone and making plays for each other," Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. "We've had some tough times this year. This was a total team effort."
Daniel Miller had 15 points and six blocks and Robert Carter Jr. added 12 points for Georgia Tech.
Fair was 12 of 25 from the field and Ennis finished with seven assists. Trevor Cooney had only seven points and was 1 of 8 from behind the arc.
After Fair cut the lead to 39-33 with a driving layup, Golden responded with a 3 from the right wing to put Georgia Tech up by nine. Two free throws by Kammeon Holsey and a jumper in the lane by Miller made it 46-34 with 13:18 to go.
Fair's driving layup and a free throw by Michael Gbinije cut the deficit to single digits, but Chris Bolden beat the Syracuse press for a layup to give Georgia Tech a 52-41 lead with 8:10 to go.
Fair missed a 3 but Bolden quickly missed one at the other end instead of taking time off the clock and Fair responded with a drive and shot off the glass with 2:41 left to make it 59-55. Fair was fouled on the play but failed to convert the free throw, making Syracuse a costly 7 of 16 from the line.
Miller's slam then beat the Orange press after a turnover by Fair, but Cooney finally came through with a 3 from the wing as Syracuse closed to 61-57 with 1:48 to play.
Carter missed a free throw, but Ennis lost the ball on a drive in the lane with just over a minute remaining.
Syracuse, which also lost at home to Boston College, closes the season at Florida State on Sunday.
"We're just eager to get that win," Fair said. "Once we win a couple of consecutive games, that will get us going."