SYRACUSE Michael Carter-Williams has already far exceeded expectations in his first season as Syracuses starting point guard.
Hes proven to be a masterful leader, an exceptional passer and a player who loves the moment.
But the 6-foot-6 sophomore may have entrenched his name forever in the lore of SU basketball with a monumental second half Monday. The man known as MCW scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, including a clutch 3-pointer to tie the game with just over a minute left, and the Orange rallied to pull out a 57-55 Big East victory over Cincinnati in the Carrier Dome.
Junior C. J. Fairs tip-in with 19.4 seconds proved to be the eventual game-winner. And SUs defense got the final stop on a Cashmere Wright 3-pointer in the closing seconds to post the schools 35th straight home win, tops in the nation.
Senior Brandon Triche scored 13 points, including back-to-back short jumpers, to help the Orange (18-1 overall, 6-0 Big East) rally from as many as seven points down with six minutes remaining.
Thats consecutive late-game comebacks for coach Jim Boeheims club, which moved up to a tie for third in this weeks AP Top 25 poll after its comeback win at then No. 1 Louisville. The veteran coach was pleased with the way his players responded, but unhappy that theyve dug themselves big holes too many times of late.
Really, we could have lost the last two very easily, and maybe five of our six league games, Boeheim said. But the kids have made big plays all year long, and thats the only thing that saved us today.
Trailing 51-44 at the five-minute mark, Triche began SUs final rally with a 15-foot jumper. He followed that with another deuce from just inside the arc, then fed Jerami Grant for a dunk to trim the lead to 51-48.
I missed a lot of open looks the first half, so I knew I had to push the issue a little bit with us down so much, Triche said. No matter how Im shooting, Im confident I can make the next one.
Carter-Williams, who managed just two first-half points on only three shots, then took over the game just as he did in the waning minutes at Louisville when he scored 11 points.
His runner from the paint cut the deficit to 54-52. After a Cheikh Mbodi free throw, Carter-Williams drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie it at 55 as the crowd of 24,281 went nuts.
I called the high screen, and the defender went underneath, Carter-Williams said. To tell you the truth, I would have been surprised if I missed. But if I did, coach wouldnt have been too happy.
Boeheim said normally that would not be the ideal shot in that situation. But right now were struggling from the outside, so Id rather have Michael take that shot than somebody who cant make it, he said.
Wright, Cincinnatis senior point guard who had missed the last game with a knee injury, then dribbled the ball off his knee and it ended up in Fairs hands.
After a time out with 39.2 seconds to go, and 31 seconds on the shot clock, SU was in position to take the clock down to the final 10 seconds.
Carter-Williams penetrated the Cincinnati 2-3 zone, and found Grant at the foul line. The rookie never hesitated, driving hard to the basket, but throwing up a wild shot as two Bearcat defenders went for the block. The ball caromed off the rim to Fair, who appeared to knock the ball off Mbodji and into the basket.
That wasnt a good play by Jerami, but I give him credit for going strong, Boeheim said. C. J. said he got his hand on that tip-in, but Im not so sure.
Fair said, I just stuck my hand up and saw the ball go into the hoop. It wasnt the prettiest thing in the world, but Ill take it..
Cincinnati called time with 14.9 seconds left. But the speedy Wright, who hit just 2 of 13 shots, was forced to take a fade-away 20 footer with Triche in his face in the final seconds.
Triche went to the foul line for a clinching 1-and-1 at the 2.5-second mark. However, he missed, giving the Bearcats one final chance. But following a timeout, Jaquon Parker could not get off a mid-court shot before the final buzzer sounded.
We continue to struggle against zones, and thats slowing our offense down, Boeheim said. But against teams like Louisville and Cincinnati, there arent many transition baskets.
Said Triche: This is a really competitive team, and were going to fight until the end. We dont always make the big shots, but were going to try.
Cincinnati, which had won its last seven road games, was led by Sean Kilpatrick with 21 points, including six 3-pointers. Coach Mick Cronin said his club did all it could to earn the upset.
They made some really big shots, or thats our game, Cronin said. I thought my kids competed hard and held a great team to 57 points.
SU is now off until a Saturday morning game at Villanova.