Men's basketball

Fair struggles from mid-range, still scores 19 in Syracuse’s win over Cornell

Sam Maller / Asst. Photo Editor

C.J. Fair throws down a dunk against Cornell on Friday at the Carrier Dome.

When C.J. Fair takes the floor, there needs to be one mantra that dictates his play.

His head coach said it, his teammates said it and Fair himself admitted it.

Fair has to allow the game to come to him, and by his own confession he didn’t do enough of that Friday night.

“C.J.’s trying to do a little too much,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “He’s trying to change. He’s got to play his game, which is not what it was tonight.

“He’s got to find his spots and play the way he plays, not the way somebody else plays.”

The Syracuse forward wasn’t his usual self, but still chipped in 19 points in the No. 8 Orange’s (1-0) season-opening 82-60 victory over Cornell (0-1) at the Carrier Dome on Friday. Fair managed to shoot an efficient 6-of-11 from the floor, but his seven turnovers didn’t make his night easy.

The Atlantic Coast Conference preseason Player of the Year garnered plenty of attention in double — sometimes even triple — teams from the Big Red, leading to a handful of shots Boeheim considered rushed.

The first 30 seconds of the night said it all about Fair’s decision-making with the ball.

On the first possession of the night, Fair took a pass from point guard Tyler Ennis at the top, and easily drove through the left lane for a left-handed layup and the Orange’s first two points of the season.

But when Ennis came up with a steal on the next possession and pushed the ball the other way, Fair bricked a 3-pointer from the left wing.

“I mean, I missed a lot of shots that I normally make, like I was way off,” Fair said. “That’s something that I know is not going to happen a lot.”

He then committed two turnovers in the span of a minute as the Orange fell behind. Boeheim yanked Fair out of the game, but for less than 45 seconds.

When Fair returned, he was in attack mode.

He hit a turnaround floater in the lane to make it 10-6. Then Fair banked in a turnaround jumper and pulled up for a transition 3 from the right wing as SU inched closer to Cornell’s lead.

Yet just as Fair was finding his rhythm, he air balled a jump shot from the left side — from mid-range.

“They were giving me the mid-range shot and I think that’s my specialty,” Fair said. “But I couldn’t find a basket from that distance.”

To compensate for his shot being off, Fair did what Boeheim instructed him to do: get to the basket.

As the Orange built momentum before the end of the first half, Fair took a pass up top, flew down the left lane and threw down a vicious one-handed dunk.

“He knows how to score the ball, whether that’s mid-range or getting all the way to the bucket,” Ennis said. “C.J. has a knack for scoring.”

Out of the break, Fair continued to be active near the hoop. A minute in, Fair missed a jumper in the paint but followed it, drew a foul and sank both free throws. When Ennis’ floater fell short, Fair was underneath to clean it up for two points and a 44-43 SU lead.

But as was the case all night, Fair wasn’t perfect.

“C.J.’s got to be a little more patient when it’s not there right away,” Boeheim said.

After another mid-range shot misfired, Cornell’s Deion Giddens stripped the ball right out of Fair’s hands as the SU forward tried to bring the ball higher. Twice in a span of five minutes, Big Red defenders drew a charge on Fair as he tried to post them up near the baseline, earning Fair a look of disgust from Boeheim.

But as Cooney led Syracuse’s second-half comeback and the Orange pulled away from Cornell, Fair found ways to contribute. Four free throws and an assist to Rakeem Christmas helped SU wrap up its season opener.

On a night when Syracuse wasn’t at its best, neither was its best player. Most players would be satisfied having the stat line Fair compiled, but for Fair, it was subpar — yet still enough for the Orange to start the year 1-0.

“We really don’t worry that much about C.J.,” forward B.J. Johnson said. “We know what we’re going to get out of him every game.”

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