Fair’s gritty performance earns MVP honors

LAHAINA – Syracuse’s C.J. Fair was an ironman in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

The 6-foot-8 senior took a shot to the face which opened a gash under his right eye in the Orange’s opener and played 116 of a possible 120 minutes in Syracuse’s three victories.

“I’m still in the moment so I’m good,” said Fair, who was named tournament MVP.

Fair had 24 points, two rebounds and three steals Wednesday in the Orange’s 74-67 victory over Baylor in the tournament final at the Lahaina Civic Center.

He shot 10-of-17 from the field against the Bears, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range.

“C.J. got some good looks, and we had to keep scoring,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose team is ranked eighth in the nation by The Associated Press.

Every time No. 18 Baylor got within striking distance, Fair sank buckets. He was 4-of-4 from the field over the final nine minutes.

“I knew that the team was looking upon me to make plays and once I saw a couple of my jumpers go in, it gave me confidence and my teammates confidence and they were finding me and it was a team effort from there,” said Fair, the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason player of the year.

Said Baylor coach Scott Drew: “I think C.J. Fair down the stretch was really big. The biggest thing is having enough time to really prepare – I wish I had prepared us better for the stretch run.”

Fair did most of his damage late on jumpers in the 15-foot range while coming off screens.

“We were doing the same play the final 10 minutes, which we had different options off of,” he said. “On offense everything kind of worked.”

Fair said the key against Baylor (6-1) was transition play.

“We knew coming into the game they were going to be a physical team and they like to pound the backboards,” he said. “The main thing is we just had to compete with them and when we did get the ball, we had to push it for the fast break because they send a lot of guys to the boards.”

For the tournament, Fair finished with 54 points, 19 rebounds, three assists and six steals. He shot 22-of-49 from the field.

Fair was part of a big four for Syracuse (7-0).

Tyler Ennis averaged 17.0 points and 6.0 assists per game, Jerami Grant averaged 16.7 points and Trevor Cooney came in at 16.3.

“I just keep moving on offense,” Cooney said. “If guys take my shot away, it’ll make it easier for my teammates.”

Syracuse averaged 80.3 points per game in its Valley Isle victories over Baylor, California and Minnesota.

“We stepped it up every night and we brought it,” Cooney said.

Fair was joined on the all-tournament team by teammate Jerami Grant, Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos, Dayton’s Devin Oliver, Baylor’s Cory Jefferson and California’s Justin Cobbs.

* Kyle Sakamoto is at ksakamoto@mauinews.com