SU narrowly defeats No. 21 Cincinnati, 57-55

In the Orange's second game in three days, No. 3 Syracuse came from behind to defeat Big East rival Cincinnati on Monday.

The Syracuse Orange took a bit of their own medicine Monday afternoon in yet another close one that was decided in the last minute of play.

No. 21/20 Cincinnati (16-4, 4-3 Big East) employed a zone defense of their own en route to a tension-filled afternoon that saw the No. 3/4 Orange (18-1, 6-0 Big East) down by two with a minute and a half to play. When the snow cleared, Syracuse scrapped away a 57-55 victory.

Photo: Keegan Barber
Sophomore guard Michael Carter Williams pushes through for the lay up.

“I hate it when teams play zone [against us],” head coach Jim Boeheim said after the win.

The Orange controlled the ball most of the first half, but constant deep threats from the Bearcats and shot-clock-wasting mentality kept them within reach, with the Orange getting no further than three-possessions ahead. At halftime, Syracuse led just 22-18, even after a more than nine minute long scoreless streak by the Bearcats.

Sean Kilpatrick paced Cincinnati with 21 points, 18 coming from behind the arc. Kilpatrick put up a lot of threes, taking an impressive 15 shots from behind the arc, although he made just six of them. Star guard Cashmere Wright, who missed the Bearcats last game, took eight from deep, but made just one. The Orange were able to contain the 15 points-per-game senior to just five points.

This was the third straight game where senior James Southerland was not allowed to play, but Boeheim did not use the same game plan as in the last two. Freshman Jerami Grant saw significant playing time-28 minutes worth-and did not disappoint, pulling down seven rebounds.

“Just knowing that I'm going to be out there on the floor more than I was before gives me confidence,” Grant said. “I've been able to get more aggressive offensively.”

Grant was heavily involved in the game-winning possession, which started with Grant driving to the hoop. Although his layup was blocked, the big bodies of Baye Moussa Kieta and CJ Fair eventually tipped it in for the game-winner.

The box score gave Fair the points, but Boeheim was not convinced.

“Somebody tipped it in. CJ claims it was him,” Boeheim said. “He may have been the closest guy to the tip, but I don't know if he got any part of it.”

When told of Boeheim's response Fair was a bit less sure of his role in the play.

“I did have help, but I think I was the last person to touch that. I tried to bring it down, but there were a lot of bodies down there and it just slipped and the ball just went in the hoop,” Fair recounted. “I thought I got it, but even if I didn't I'll take the win.”

The tip in for the win was made possible first by gutsy play down the stretch by the Syracuse defense and some timely offense from Michael Carter-Williams. Down 54-50 with just over two minutes left Carter-Williams hit a jumper to cut the lead in half. Grant fouled Cheikh Mbodj half a minute later, leading to one made free throw.

Ten seconds later, Carter-Williams was beyond the arc of the key, and pulled up and made the game-tying three. The 22,000 fans in attendance erupted.

Boeheim kept up with his earlier borderline-offensive remarks about his players by comparing Carter-Williams' confidence in his shooting with Boeheim's own culinary prowess, or lack thereof.

“I can't cook, but if I believed in my cooking the way Michael Carter-Williams does [in his shooting], I would win Iron Chef,” Boeheim jested. “And I can't boil water!” 

The tip-in, whoever it came from, came with 13 seconds left in the game. Two missed three-pointers in the final eight seconds, including a long shot as time expired put the finishing touches on the 57-55 victory.

Carter-Williams led the Orange with 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists for the third straight game. CJ Fair and Brandon Triche both scored 13 points and Trevor Cooney added eight points on 2-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc.

After unseating Louisville from the No. 1 spot Saturday with a close victory, the Orange faced another tough foe in Cincinnati, and came through in the end.

“We know we had to win,” Grant said.

The Orange visit Villanova on Saturday for their second match-up with the Wildcats of the month. 

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