Rakeem Christmas' late steal helps No. 1 Syracuse avoid NC State upset
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Syracuse's streak lives on -- barely.
With their key players struggling, the top-ranked Orange used their defense to remain unbeaten, edging North Carolina State 56-55 on C.J. Fair's layup with 6.7 seconds left Saturday night.
Rakeem Christmas started the winning sequence with a steal in the lane off a trap in the left corner, and Fair finished it with a layup in transition.
"We got out of it by making a good play at the end," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "We were able to make some good plays finally at the end, and one big play."
The start of the game was pushed back four hours because of a snowstorm that wreaked havoc along the eastern seaboard. NC State did not land in Syracuse until Saturday afternoon. The team's Twitter account announced the Wolfpack's arrival at 3:07 p.m., seven minutes later than the original scheduled tip-off.
It turned out to be worth the wait, tight all the way through a frantic finish full of missed opportunities.
"They're terrific," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "Obviously, when you have a year like they're having, when you're undefeated you're going to have some close ones, some not-so-close ones. We just tried to prepare for them as best we could and I thought our guys did a great job."
Ralston Turner missed a 3 for NC State with 2:45 left with Syracuse clinging to a one-point lead, and then Fair was off on a hook driving across the lane. After NC State's Anthony Barber hit the side of the backboard with a baseline jumper, Jerami Grant missed a spinning drive in the lane for Syracuse.
Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, so cool and collected all year, then showed he's human, fouling Turner while shooting a 3, and he made all three free throws to give the Wolfpack a 55-53 lead with 62 seconds left.
Fair sank 1 of 2 foul shots with 41.4 seconds remaining and NC State's Desmond Lee then lost the ball out of bounds when he was double-teamed at midcourt.
Ennis negated that turnover with a charge with 14.7 seconds left, but the Wolfpack couldn't close it out.
Wolfpack star T.J. Warren was fouled in the back by Trevor Cooney and his shot went in, but the basket was waved off. The referees ruled the infraction occurred before the shot, forcing NC State to inbound the ball and setting up the winning trap in the corner.
"That should have counted," Gottfried said. "That was a made basket to put us up three with T.J. going to the line to go up four. That changed things."
Christmas had 14 points and set career highs with 12 rebounds and seven blocks as Syracuse earned its 10th single-digit win despite shooting 35.2 percent. Grant had 12 points and 14 rebounds, and Fair scored 11 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
"We keep our composure all the time," Christmas said. "We don't let anything get to us."
After Fair's winning layup, Warren missed from the top of the key on one last try for NC State. Warren finished with 23 points, Kyle Washington had 14 and Turner 13 for the Wolfpack.
Despite its torrid season, Syracuse (25-0, 12-0) is clinging to a half-game lead over Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Orange's start is the third-best in ACC history, behind only North Carolina State (27-0) in 1973 and North Carolina (32-0) in 1957.
North Carolina State (16-9, 6-6) was looking for its seventh win over the nation's No. 1 team. It got its last one just over a year ago, beating Duke 84-76.
The Wolfpack, who had won five of six, shot 39 percent (22 of 56) from the field.
Syracuse was coming off a dramatic last-second victory at No. 25 Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Ennis hit a 3-pointer from 35 feet as time expired to lift the Orange to a 58-56 road win.
But the hostile Carrier Dome crowd of 31,572 didn't seem to faze the Wolfpack, who used Warren's big effort to hang right with Syracuse. He scored six straight points to start the second half and Washington's hook in the lane gave NC State a 34-30 lead.
Syracuse tied it at 34 on a slam by Christmas off an air ball by Fair from the right corner, and foul trouble on the Wolfpack hurt their chances. Grant's follow off a miss by Christmas gave Syracuse its first lead of the second half at 40-39 with 9:19 left.
There were seven ties and seven lead changes in the opening half, and the Wolfpack had the biggest advantage at 26-22 after a driving backdoor layup by Warren.
A spinning drive through the lane and layup by Fair and a fast-break dunk by Cooney off a Wolfpack turnover in the closing 2:11 made it 26-26 at the break.
It was Syracuse's fourth crowd of more than 30,000 this season. That's the most in any single season since Syracuse had six Carrier Dome crowds of more than 30,000 in 1990-91.
- Sean Hull
- Mike Stuart
- Ray Natili
2022-23 Atlantic Coast Conference Standings