LAHAINA – And with that, Jim Boeheim is out the door.
Under Boeheim’s guidance, Syracuse held off a determined effort from Baylor for a 74-67 victory in the championship game of the EA Sports Maui Invitational on Wednesday at the Lahaina Civic Center.
“I’m retired from Maui, that’s what I will tell you,” Boeheim said after running his record in the tournament to 9-0. “I’m very happy to go into the sunset. The next time I come to Maui, I’ll have my golf clubs. I did not have them this time, but I’m going to go outside tomorrow morning on the beach for the first time.”
The Orange (7-0), ranked eighth by The Associated Press, also won titles on the Valley Isle in 1990 and 1998 under Boeheim. They beat the 18th-ranked Bears (6-1) with a hot start that lasted for the game – Syracuse made 13 of its first 17 shots and finished
30-for-59 from the floor – and a defense that forced 20 turnovers.
“I thought the difference is we finally got our defense going,” Boeheim said.
“We were much better with the shooters. They really shoot the ball well from the perimeter and we did a much better job against that.”
Boeheim was pleased with the performance on the other side of the floor as well – the Orange shot 85-for-173 (49.1 percent) from the floor in their three Maui games, which included beating Minnesota 75-67 on Monday and California 92-81 on Tuesday, and are shooting 45.3 percent for the season.
Tournament MVP C.J. Fair had 24 points and three steals against Baylor and 54 points in the tournament.
“We just play well here,” Boeheim said. “We beat Indiana in the finals the first two times – really good Indiana teams – and we beat a really good Baylor team. This was a struggle for us. In Minnesota we were two points up with, I think, less than two or three minutes to go and the game was in the balance. C.J. made a runner in the lane that really got us the win.
“Then Cal was really difficult and we made crazy shots, really difficult shots and got the lead. And our defense was better tonight.”
Syracuse opened the title game with a 10-2 run behind five points and a steal by Fair, but Baylor rallied for a 16-14 lead on a 3-pointer by Brady Heslip 6 minutes, 21 seconds into the contest – earlier in the run, Royce O’Neale made a pair of 3-pointers and Gary Franklin added another.
Syracuse then went on a 16-2 streak, and was in front 38-30 at the break.
A 3-pointer by Baye Moussa Keita gave the Orange a 54-43 lead with 9:59 to play, but a tip-in by Cory Jefferson brought the Bears within four with 7:22 left. Jerami Grant, who joined Fair on the all-tournament team, scored six points in a 10-0 run to give Syracuse a 66-52 lead with 5:03 left, and Baylor would not get closer than five the rest of the way.
Grant finished with 19 points, while Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis each added 11 for the champions. Cooney is a sophomore point guard and Ennis is a freshman.
“Being young guards and that we are playing against three really good teams and three different teams, every night was different for us,” Cooney said. “All three were great challenges for us and I thought we stepped it up every night and brought it. I thought that was great for us.”
Cooney said he was trying to run the offense with constant motion.
“When I’m moving, I feel like our offense is moving,” Cooney said. “If guys are going to take me away, take my shot away, it’s going to get a lot easier for my teammates and that’s what I’ve got to keep doing.”
The Bears had five players score in double figures – Jefferson had 15, Kenny Chery and Heslip each had 12, Isaiah Austin had 11 and O’Neale added 10. Jefferson’s eight rebounds helped Baylor to a 33-21 advantage on the boards.
“I’m pleased with our players, how they battled, pleased with the leadership of Cory and Brady and Gary,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “I was pleased with the rebounding for the most part.”
Syracuse’s 24-8 advantage in points off turnovers was a key – Baylor shot 55.3 percent from the field (26-for-47) and 47.4 percent from 3-point range (9-for-19).
“That is definitely an area we can work on and improve,” Drew said of the turnovers.
Jefferson said the Bears will bounce back from their first loss of the season.
“We just need to go back and watch the film of this game over and this whole tournament – the things that we did wrong – and improve them,” Jefferson said. “I think one of the greatest things about this team is we adjust pretty well.”
The Orange’s third championship ties them with North Carolina for second in tournament history – Duke has won the event five times.
Boeheim admitted the joy of this title will not last long. Syracuse plays Indiana on Sunday.
“I thinking about Indiana, I’m not thinking about this anymore,” he said. “I never enjoy these things for very long, but we wanted to get into a tournament this year and we do every year. We want to play in a tournament that’s going to test us. And usually you get an easy game in a tournament – we had (three) ridiculously difficult games here.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com
Fair 10-17 2-2 24, Christmas 3-3 1-1 7, Coleman 0-2 0-0 0, Cooney 4-11 2-2 11, Ennis 4-11 2-3 11, Gbinije 0-2 0-0 0, Grant 8-12 3-3 19, Keita 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 30-59 10-11 74.
Jefferson 7-8 1-2 15, Austin 4-5 3-4 11, Chery 5-9 0-0 12, Franklin 1-5 0-0 2, Wainright 1-3 0-0 2, O’Neale 3-3 1-4 10, Gathers 0-2 1-2 1, Heslip 4-7 0-0 12, Prince 1-5 0-0 2. Totals 26-47 6-12 67.
Halftime-Syracuse 38-30. 3-Point Goals-Syracuse 4-12 (Fair 2-3, Ennis 1-4, Cooney 1-5), Baylor 9-19 (Heslip 4-7, O’Neale 3-3, Chery 2-4, Wainright 0-1, Prince 0-1, Franklin 0-3). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Syracuse 21 (Christmas 5), Baylor 33 (Jefferson 8). Assists-Syracuse 17 (Ennis 9), Baylor 15 (Chery 8). Total Fouls-Syracuse 13, Baylor 15.