Syracuse finds a way
LAHAINA – Most of the new paint on the Lahaina Civic Center floor is orange – and on Monday, three defining dunks had the Syracuse fans at the gym cheering like they were back home in the Carrier Dome.
The Orange needed nearly all 40 minutes, but put away Minnesota 75-67 in an EA Sports Maui Invitational opening-round game.
The first resounding slam came with 4 minutes, 27 seconds left in the first half, when C.J. Fair flew over the lane and threw down a left-handed dunk for a 33-27 lead.
With just under a minute to go in the half, Rakeem Christmas followed a Fair miss with authority to put the Orange (5-0), No. 8 in The Associated Press rankings, in front 37-34. With 16:16 to play, Christmas did it again for a 50-38 lead.
“They’re big momentum shifts,” said Fair, who finished with a team-high 16 points and game-high 10 rebounds. “And Trevor (Cooney) started off hitting consecutive 3s, and then me and Rakeem got a couple dunks to get the crowd into it, and I think we set off the crowd from there.”
Cooney made five of his 11 3-point attempts and finished with 15 points.
“When you get dunks like that, it just pumps you up on defense and gets you motivation to get that next stop and keep going,” he said.
Syracuse – 7-0 on Maui, with championships in 1990 and 1998 – will play California today at 2 p.m. with a spot in the title game at stake.
Minnesota (5-1) will face Arkansas in a fifth-place semifinal at 9 a.m.
“This game is going to take a lot out of us, but we’ll be ready,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
The Golden Gophers stayed close thanks to the 3-point shooting of Malik Smith and Andre Hollins. Smith was 4-for-7 from beyond the arc and finished with a team-high 16 points, while Hollins was 2-for-7 from 3-point range and had 14 points. Minnesota finished the game 9-for-22 from long distance.
A basket by Fair, the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason player of the year, made the score 52-38, but Minnesota then went on a 14-4 run capped by two long 3-pointers by Smith.
The Gophers got within 67-65 on a pair of Hollins free throws with 2:14 to play, but a Fair jumper, four foul shots by Jerami Grant and two by Tyler Ennis gave the Orange a 75-65 lead with 16 seconds to go.
“We don’t come in thinking we’re going to lose,” Hollins said. “Doesn’t matter what others think. We’re going to come in extremely confident and it’s a game. We come in and play. We prepared well and it was a good game.”
While Minnesota got 48 points from its guards, Syracuse controlled the paint with Fair while Christmas and Dajuan Coleman combined for 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and eight rebounds.
“They had a very tough defense,” Boeheim said. “They pressured the guards and then they forced you into the bigs and their bigs were playing solid, strong, Big Ten basketball.”
First-year Minnesota coach Richard Pitino lost in his first head-to-head matchup against Boeheim, a close family friend.
“Certainly a hard-fought loss, but I’m very, very proud of our team,” Pitino said. “I thought today – and I told them this – when you are building a program and you are at the early, early stages you want to show that you can compete on every single possession. Our guys did that tonight.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org
An. Hollins 5-13 2-3 14, Mathieu 2-5 2-2 7, Osenieks 2-5 0-0 4, Au. Hollins 3-8 4-4 11, Eliason 2-4 2-2 6, King 4-9 0-0 9, Smith 5-8 2-2 16. Totals 23-52 12-13 67.
Fair 7-15 2-2 16, Cooney 5-12 0-0 15, Ennis 1-9 10-11 12, Christmas 3-4 0-0 6, Coleman 3-4 3-6 9, Gbinije 1-2 2-2 4, Grant 4-10 4-4 12, Keita 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 24-56 22-27 75.
Halftime-Syracuse 39-36. 3-Point Goals-Minnesota 9-22 (Smith 4-7, An. Hollins 2-7, Mathieu 1-1, King 1-1, Au. Hollins 1-5, Osenieks 0-1), Syracuse 5-13 (Cooney 5-11, Ennis 0-1, Fair 0-1). Fouled Out-King. Rebounds-Minnesota 32 (Eliason 9), Syracuse 32 (Fair 10). Assists-Minnesota 16 (Au. Hollins, Mathieu 4), Syracuse 11 (Ennis 5). Total Fouls-Minnesota 18, Syracuse 16. A-2,400.