Men's Basketball

Fair’s diminished role in 2nd half costs Syracuse in loss to Marquette

Courtesy of Mike Sears | The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

C.J. Fair contests a shot from Marquette forward Jamil Wilson in Syracuse's 74-71 loss to Marquette on Monday. Fair scored 20 points for the Orange, but had limited scoring opportunities in the second half.

MILWAUKEE — C.J. Fair lowered his voice as the media cleared out of the visitor’s locker room in the underbelly of the Bradley Center. He sat alone with a reporter when his voice dropped midway through a question about whether he was frustrated with his lack of touches in the second half.

He talked quietly, deliberately and honestly.

“I’m a good player, so I want the ball a lot,” Fair said. “But it’s tough because they were pressing and then they were running zone. It’s hard, kind of, to get the ball inside.”

And so Monday’s game went like many of the games before it, with Fair putting forth a wonderfully efficient first-half performance only to see his role diminish in the second. He went nearly 12 minutes without an official field goal attempt, and No. 12 Syracuse (22-6, 10-5 Big East) watched its two-point lead turn into a four-point deficit during that span. The result was a second consecutive loss, 74-71, at the hands of the No. 22 Golden Eagles (20-7, 11-4).

Fair came out firing to start, connecting on five of his first six shots as Syracuse put to bed any question of how it would respond following an emotional loss to Georgetown during the weekend. He sliced down the left side of the lane to draw a foul on the Orange’s second possession, and converted both free throws for a quick 4-1 lead.

It began a series of buckets that personify Fair’s game. His first hoop was a dunk off of a pretty feed from Michael Carter-Williams. Then came another dunk on a feed from Trevor Cooney. He followed that with a reverse layup off of a rebound that was tipped underneath the basket.

He rarely forces shots and rarely shoots from the outside, relying instead on his craftiness around the basket — an asset a scout from the Miami Heat pointed out during Monday’s game.

“We ran our zone offense like we normally do,” Fair said. “We just have to be patient.”

But something happened in the second half, as Fair’s involvement seemed to disappear. The Golden Eagles played almost entirely zone defense during that time, and the SU guards had difficulties getting the ball inside.

Instead, the trio of Carter-Williams, James Southerland and Brandon Triche took over the offense. Each of those players missed at least six shots Monday. Fair missed only three.

Fair made a short jumper with 12:56 remaining in the second half, and that was his final bucket until the last 10 seconds of the game. For close to 12 minutes, the Golden Eagles held him without a shot — he got fouled once and made one of two free throws — and handcuffed the SU offense.

Without going inside, the Orange failed to get to the free-throw line. And this season, Fair has been the only reliable inside option. Carter-Williams and Triche have driven to the basket with success, but Fair is the only SU player whose low-post moves can be trusted.

Syracuse shot two free throws in the second half to Marquette’s 28.

“We were doing fine up until the nine-minute mark of the second half,” Triche said. “They would score, we would foul them, we would score, we would foul them, they hit two free throws again, then we don’t score and then we foul them.

“We just kept on fouling and fouling until we started missing shots, had a few turnovers and they got a few breaks.”

Triche, who finished with eight points, said he should have been more aggressive in attacking the Marquette zone. He felt if he had gone at the weak side of the defense more frequently, slicing in from the wing, it would have created more opportunities for his teammates and possibly drawn more fouls.

The interior of the Golden Eagles’ zone honed in on Fair, especially with Baye Moussa Keita and Rakeem Christmas’ limited offensive repertoire. By the time Fair hoisted and made a 3-pointer with eight seconds left — his first field goal since the 12:56 mark — the game was already over.

He wanted the ball more, but he just didn’t get it.

“At the under-eight minute mark, we had a chance to put the game away,” Fair said. “That’s when they did their damage.”


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