Men's Basketball

Fair, Syracuse stave off Baylor to win 3rd Maui Invitational championship

C.J. Fair lined up from the left elbow, took aim and fired. Swish.

Next from the ring wing. Feet squared. Swish.

Another answer. Another Syracuse basket to break a Baylor run. The Bears frantically tried to claw back against the Orange in the Maui Invitational championship game on Wednesday, but Fair simply prevented them.

“I knew that the team was looking upon me to make plays, and once I seen a couple of my jumpers go in, that kind of gave me confidence and teammates confidence to keep getting me open and finding me,” Fair said during the postgame press conference. “It was a team effort from there.”

The senior forward finished with a game-high 24 points, including 14 in the second half, as Syracuse (7-0) edged Baylor (6-1) 74-67 to win its third Maui Invitational crown and remain undefeated all-time in Lahaina, Hawaii. Fair showcased a polished mid-range game, but also a superb all-around performance, drawing an offensive foul on a half-court trap and showing patience working around off-ball screens.

“We were doing basically one play the last 10 minutes, but we had different options off of it,” Fair said. “And I think all the options kind of worked.”

Coupled with 30 points, 17 rebounds and 11 stitches to the right cheek he collected in the course of SU’s wins over Minnesota and California, Fair was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

Jerami Grant added 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting to make the all-tournament team while Tyler Ennis recorded 11 points and nine assists for the Orange, who shot 90.9 percent from the same foul line that plagued its first four games before the Maui Invitational.

Trevor Cooney chipped in 11 points, working cohesively with Ennis at the top of SU’s 2-3 zone as he’s done throughout the week.

“Being young guards that we are playing against three really good teams and three different teams, every night was different for us,” Cooney said during the postgame press conference. “Every team was different, and all three were great challenges for us. And I thought we stepped it up every night and brought it.”

After an 8-0 Bears run pulled them within 66-60 on a Cory Jefferson jumper with 3:07 to go, Fair took over again. Minutes earlier, he had come around a double-baseline screen for a 15-foot jumper, then forced a charge on Royce O’Neale.

This time, he spotted up from the elbow to give SU an eight-point lead with 2:46 to play. Then following a Jefferson dunk, Fair squared up from the right wing and drained another jumper.

Two crucial shots that all but sealed the win for Syracuse.

“C.J. got some good looks, and we had to keep scoring,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said during the postgame press conference. “They were making a run, and they’re really a good rebounding team.”

An Ennis steal with 24 seconds left spelled “aloha” for Baylor before Cooney and Ennis finished the game 4-of-4 at the foul line.

After running out to a 10-2 lead behind Ennis and Fair 3s, Syracuse led for almost all of the first half. The lead peaked at 33-20 on a Rakeem Christmas three-point play with 7:16 left in the opening frame, and was 38-30 at the half.

The Orange controlled momentum through the stanza — converting seven straight baskets en route to 57.1 percent shooting — as a ferocious Michael Gbinije block on Taurean Prince that sailed into the Lahaina Civic Center stands highlighted a dominant 20 minutes for SU.

The Orange’s consistent offense carried over to the second half as Fair punctuated a deadly tournament performance.

“I’ve retired from Maui. That’s what I will tell you,” Boeheim said with a smile. “The next time I come to Maui, I’ll have my golf clubs.”

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