Andrew Renneisen | Staff PhotographerMen's Basketball
ROARING BACK: Syracuse defies odds again in late comeback win over No. 21 Cincinnati
It was the shot that made Jim Boeheim celebrate.
With a confident flick of the wrist, though his percentage from beyond the arc should make him anything but, Michael Carter-Williams let loose the 3-pointer that a teammate dubbed the play of the game.
From the top of the key he let it fly – his team trailing by three and in danger of losing at home for the first time in the last 35 games – only to watch it nestle softly in the net a moment later.
It led Boeheim to raise both arms in celebration, led a crowd of 24,281 back to life after it was nearly lulled to sleep and it led, most importantly, his team to a come-from-behind victory for a second straight game.
Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche scored or assisted 11 of the final 13 points Monday to surge past a gritty No. 21 Cincinnati (16-4, 4-3 Big East) team for a 57-55 win. Their late-game shot-making — along with a lucky tip-in from C.J. Fair that bounced off of multiple players — salvaged a game in which No. 3 Syracuse (18-1, 6-0) trailed for almost 15 minutes in the second half.
Together they accounted for more than half of Syracuse’s total points.
“We should have lost both of these games,” said Boeheim, reflecting on Monday’s win and the upset of No. 1 Louisville Saturday. “That’s why Rick (Pitino) was so upset the other day. There was almost no way on earth that Louisville should have lost that game Saturday. And there was less of a chance for Cincinnati to lose this game. They had this. This game was over. The game was completely over.”
With 5:08 remaining, Cincinnati held a seven-point lead and seemed on its way to an impressive road victory following an abysmal offensive performance in the first half. The Bearcats surged ahead after halftime by riding the shooting stroke of Sean Kilpatrick, the team’s leading scorer, who finished with a game-high 21 points, 18 of which were scored from beyond the 3-point line.
They took the lead at the 17:25 mark of the second half and held that advantage until the final 19 seconds. In between was a game of runs, with SU tying the game three times only to watch Cincinnati surge back in front.
It set the stage for a 13-4 Syracuse run in the final five minutes, snatching a win the Bearcats should have had and preserving the nation’s longest home winning streak.
“You don’t really want to have confidence in that you’re going to be down and come back,” Triche said. “That’s not good confidence. It’s more so confidence that we’re going to stick it out, that we’re not going to get down on each other and we’re just going to play for each other.”
Fittingly it was Triche, the Orange’s only senior with James Southerland still ineligible, who sparked the late-game run with an assertive offensive sequence. He made back-to-back baskets in less than a minute, hitting a fade-away jumper first and a one-dribble pull-up right after to close the gap to three with 4:12 remaining.
Then it was Carter-Williams’ turn to re-enter the spotlight less than 48 hours after he’d left it in Louisville. The often-heroic, sometimes head-scratching point guard entered Monday’s game shooting 27 percent from 3-point range, but he rose confidently with his team in a must-make situation.
He tied the game at 55 with 1:21 remaining, forcing Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin to take a timeout as Carter-Williams implored the crowd to hurl even more noise at the Bearcats.
They would not score another point.
“It’s a big shot, give him credit,” said Cronin. “He’s going to play a long time in the NBA. But yeah, we would rather have him shoot than Triche.”
So in the game’s closing seconds, when neither Triche nor Carter-Williams shot, Cronin should have been happy. He was likely thrilled to see Jerami Grant, a freshman, careen down the lane and toss an awkward layup at the rim.
But there was C.J. Fair, the third member of the Syracuse triumvirate that defenders cannot leave open, crashing the offensive glass for a tip-in that Cronin said touched three different players when he watched the replay before miraculously falling through the net.
It left him sullen and despondent, completely aware that his team’s late-game defensive collapse had cost them an upset.
There was no shot to make Cronin celebrate.
“I know I wasn’t the only person to touch it,” Fair said. “But I’ll take the win.”
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