Created: 01/04/2014 6:04 PM WHEC.com
By: Associated Press
Jim Boeheim won his first game in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He likely won't rest easy any time soon, though.
C.J. Fair scored 15 points, including the go-ahead basket with 4:16 to go, and No. 2 Syracuse rallied late to beat Miami 49-44 on Saturday in the Orange's ACC debut.
Syracuse trailed 35-29 nearing the midpoint of the second half of a slow-paced game that featured just three fast-break points - a 3-pointer by Syracuse's Trevor Cooney in the first 5 minutes of play. But with the sharpshooting Cooney suffering through his worst shooting performance of the season, the Orange found a way to prevail in the end by going inside against Miami's matchup zone.
"When you get into league play, you're going to have games like this," Boeheim said. "It's not easy. We're going to see this a lot."
Syracuse (14-0, 1-0) entered the game as one of seven unbeaten teams remaining in Division I and struggled against Miami (8-6, 0-2), the reigning conference champion. The Hurricanes are the only team in the conference with no returning starters, and they lost their ACC opener 61-60 in overtime to Virginia Tech in early December.
On this day, they gave the Orange a game right until the end.
A long jumper from the right corner by Rion Brown gave Miami a 35-29 lead with 12:22 remaining and the Hurricanes were executing coach Jim Larranaga's game plan nicely, taking time off the clock and preventing the Orange from scoring inside.
"They had a real solid matchup zone and we couldn't really get anything going," Fair said. "They got good shots working the shot clock down and made us work on defense. It's tough playing defense that long."
Still, Syracuse managed to slowly chip away at the lead. Fair's 3 from the right corner at 11:08 was the Orange's first basket of the second half and narrowed the deficit to 35-32. After two free throws by Davon Reed gave Miami a 40-35 lead, Rakeem Christmas scored twice inside - on a putback and lefty hook in the lane - to start a decisive 10-4 Orange run.
"When we got down, we just wanted to go back out there and be stronger, make big plays," Christmas said. "It got our team going and we turned up our defense from there. We just came together as a team."
Jerami Grant hit a jumper from the free throw line, Fair converted a spinning layup in the lane and Tyler Ennis hit a driving layup to give Syracuse a 43-40 lead with 3:19 left.
Syracuse overcame a 25-7 deficit and beat then-No. 8 Villanova by 16 points a week ago, but the Orange struggled to find any rhythm against Miami. With 7:54 left, Cooney was 2 of 11 from the field, all from 3-point range. He entered the game shooting 50 percent from long range (43 of 86), tops in the ACC.
"I got open 3s, they just didn't fall," said Cooney, who finished 2 of 12. "It's tough. You just have to hang strong. It was great to see us hang in there."
Miami pulled within 43-42 on a reverse layup by James Kelly with 2:15 left, but Ennis scored again inside, and Cooney and Ennis both hit two free throws in the final minute as the Orange prevailed.
"We got a little spread out in the zone," Brown said. "We were so worried about the shooters they got in the lane a couple of times and got some easy layups. We deviated from the game plan just a couple of plays and it showed."
Miami, which trailed by four points at halftime, started the second half with a 14-4 run as the Orange missed their first nine shots. Garrius Adams, who led Miami with nine points, and freshman Manu Lecomte hit 3-pointers and Brown hit a jumper from deep in the right corner to key the surge.
"The tempo was what we wanted. We needed to keep them on defense," Larranaga said. "Time of possession was very important, almost like a football game. Defensively, we wanted to keep them on the perimeter, and that's the one disappointing part for us. Overall, we had a good defensive game plan and executed it pretty well, but at the end they got some interior baskets and that really hurt us."
Cooney finished with 11 points and Ennis had 10 points, seven assists and two turnovers for Syracuse. Forward Dajuan Coleman, who sat out Tuesday's game against Eastern Michigan nursing a sore left knee, dressed and participated in pregame warmups but did not play.
Kelly and Lecomte both finished with eight points for Miami, which finished 7 of 19 from 3-point range.
The Hurricanes didn't look like the team that went 0 for 15 from 3-point range in opening the season with an overtime loss to St. Francis Brooklyn, a program that hasn't finished over .500 since 2003-04.
Facing the vaunted Syracuse zone, the Hurricanes were up for the task, hitting 5 of 11 3-point attempts in the first half. Adams and Lecomte hit from long range on successive possessions late in the period and Miami trailed just 25-21 at halftime.