Undefeated Syracuse Playing with Fire After Consecutive Last-Second Wins

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreHoopsCollege Basketball National Lead WriterFebruary 16, 2014

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Perfection looks a lot more like 20-5 to Jim Boeheim.

On Saturday night after another close call, this one won 56-55 on a C.J. Fair breakaway layup in the final seconds, the man in charge of the No. 1 team in the nation was hardly beaming like he was days earlier when Tyler Ennis hit the shot of the season.

"Our offense just wasn't good enough," Boeheim said. "I think moving forward for us to be a good team, we've got to play better offense."

Feb 15, 2014; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange head coach Jim Boeheim reacts to the play on the court during the second half of a game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse won the game 56-55. Mandatory Credit: Mark Kon
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A "good team"?! As in, the Orange aren't there yet?

Boeheim might be short-selling his guys a bit.

His words were a 20-5 record would fit how his team has played to date, but even he admits there have been moments—like the magical Duke win, for instance—where Syracuse has been brilliant.

But yeah, shiny 25-0 record and all, the Orange are not far out ahead of the pack. 

Heck, they were only one point better than the Wolfpack.

NC State likely has reservations for the NIT. And if the season were to end today, it's doubtful any of the Wolfpack's 16 wins would be over NCAA tourney participants.

What Boeheim was getting at is don't fool perfection for dominance. 

Syracuse, like every team at the top of the polls this year, has its limitations. And those were on display in the form of bricked jumpers against NC State.

"They're big inside, and we couldn't get to the basket like we've been able to," Boeheim said. "When we don't shoot the ball from the outside, we need to get there. I don't think we've had our offense where it needs to be the last couple games."

The Orange rely a lot on Fair to get buckets, and every time he shot outside the paint against NC State, he looked as confident as a pimple-faced teenager hitting on Miss America. (She was in attendance, by the way.)

Fair's best outside shots on this night were the ones that found rim. 

"I didn't think he had his legs," Boeheim said. "He couldn't get his legs under him on his jump shots." 

It could be tough for Fair to find those legs. He played 40 minutes. The last time the senior logged more than two minutes on the bench was Jan. 7 at Virginia Tech. And over the last four games, he's shot 21-of-56 from the field.

Thing is, there's no other option Boeheim feels comfortable with off his bench. He's playing only six guys right now, and that rotation will balloon to seven once Baye Keita returns.

Inside depth, however, isn't going to fix any shooting woes. 

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 15:  Tyler Ennis #11 of the Syracuse Orange drives to the basket against the defense of Anthony Barber #2 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack during the first half at the Carrier Dome on February 15, 2014 in Syracuse, New York.  (
Rich Barnes/Getty Images

When Fair's not hitting, Trevor Cooney and Ennis better make up for it, and the two guards combined to go 6-of-20.

Ennis also had four turnovers, only the second time he's had more than two giveaways in a game.

So...how did Syracuse win again?

Some form of magic, of course.

This ending didn't match the script of Ennis at the buzzer, but it was almost as unbelievable.

The lasting image easily could have been Boeheim, looking straight at Ennis, nodding his head in agreement when the freshman was called for a charge in the final minute.

Ennis, who has always made the right play when it matters most, barreled over NC State point guard Cat Barber. Ennis also fouled Ralston Turner shooting a three with 1:02 left, leading to the free throws that would have been the go-ahead points for the Wolfpack.

The headline almost read: "From hero to goat."

The freshman didn't have another trick up his sleeve three days after hitting the shot of the season at Pitt.

Feb 15, 2014; Syracuse, NY, USA; Two Syracuse Orange fans in head coach Jim Boeheim masks display a sign during the second half of a game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse won the game 56-55. Mandatory Credit: Mark Ko
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Only Boeheim did. 

With the Wolfpack up one and the shot clock off, Boeheim decided to try a trap before fouling. 

Cooney and Jerami Grant trapped Barber in the corner, and without any timeouts, Barber was forced to throw a desperate pass. Rakeem Christmas, who was the real star for 'Cuse (14 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks), intercepted Barber's pass. Christmas passed ahead to Ennis, and Ennis got the ball ahead to Fair for the game-winner.

Just another night in Syracuse.

"We're getting everyone's best shot," Fair said. "And when you get in crucial situations where it's win or lose situations, I think that shows who the better team is, and today we showed it."

Yes, the Orange have showed it 25 times now

But as Boeheim said, the easy part of the schedule is finished.

It takes two to end perfection, and Syracuse could finally meet its match on the road over the next two weeks.

The Orange travel to Duke next Saturday, and the following Saturday is at Virginia. The Cavaliers are one Syracuse misstep away from being tied atop the ACC.

Of course, Boeheim could care less about his team's chase at a perfect record.

"You don't get any trophies that matter in the regular season," he said. "Only thing that matters is what you do at the end of the year—the real end of the year."

Boeheim has the talent to get there. His guys might even have some magic left.

But judging by what took place Saturday night and all the close calls the Orange have survived, the team that's somehow stayed perfect is plenty vulnerable.  

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR. 


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