The Morning After: C.J. Fair’s Signature Game Leads Orange Over Devils in OT

CJ Fair guarded by Duke's Rodney Hood.
CJ Fair had a signature game against the Blue Devils in the Carrier Dome.

Normally, I write “The Morning After” the morning after Syracuse‘s latest basketball contest.  But after the Orange’s thrilling 91-89 overtime victory over the Duke Blue Devils I couldn’t resist writing the recap right away, for a couple of reasons.

First, I’m drunk.  Even for a dude as big as me, three beers and four strong Jack and Coke’s in 2 1/2 hours is enough to get a guy a bit tipsy (seriously, I’m surprised I can type straight.  I apologize in advance for any typos, misspellings and grammar errors because the copy editor (also me) is drunk as well).

Two, the analysis of the game really boils down to one thing, and one thing only.

I told you so.

The Game Plan

In my preview of the Duke game, my first point basically boiled down to the fact that the Blue Devils can’t guard anyone.  At all.  Ever.  While their one-on-one perimeter defense isn’t vomit-inducing, Duke’s screen and roll defense is atrocious and, as a result, opposing perimeter players are able to get into the lane pretty much at will.

Case in point.  Syracuse attempted four, yes four, three-point shots in the game.  Read that again.  Four three-point attempts in 45 minutes of basketball.  Syracuse attempted 54 total shots and four…FOUR were from deep.  Who does that?  I’ll tell you who.  A team whose coach understands that the other team can’t guard worth a damn and that a three-point attempt is little more than a wasted opportunity for a layup.

Want proof?  According to the graphic at the end of the SportsCenter recap I just watched, Syracuse had 42 points in the paint and the Orange’s final 23 points of the contest were either in the paint of from the FT line.  Hpw’s that for attack mode?

The second point in the preview was that Duke’s interior defense has all the bite of a 95-year-old great-great-grandmother who’s lost her dentures.  The Blue Devils average a pathetic 3.0 blocks per game.  How many did they notch against Syracuse?  Zero.  A goose egg.  Not one rejection in 45 minutes.  The Orange, on the other had nine blocks led by Rakeem Christmas‘ six (six!) swats.

So, what was the result?  Syracuse took 50 two point shots and made 28 of them.  Combined with 3-4 from deep, the Orange shot 57% from the field, their highest field goal percentage of the season.  It was pretty much a layup line for the ‘Cuse, and I’m not just talking about the three consecutive dunks that Jerami Grant had in OT while Andre Dawkins was “guarding” him.  It was everyone.

The ability of the Orange to score efficiently from two was the reason they were able to overcome 15 made threes by Duke.  But, if you really look at it, that’s what Syracuse wants to do.  The Blue Devils shot a ridiculous 72 shots in the game (compared to Syracuse’s 54).  Exactly half of those were threes.  Syracuse (who, remember, only took four threes) shot 57% from the field, where Duke shot only 43%.

The offensive game plan was to get good two-point shots and the defensive game plan (as always) was to get the opponent to shoot (and miss) a ton of threes. Both were executed pretty much perfectly and, if Saturday’s opponent is anyone other than Duke, it’s a game the Orange win by 20+.  But Duke, being very talented and extremely well-coached, was able to make a game of it despite the game going pretty much as Jim Boeheim would have wanted.

Trouble With Fouls

One of the aspects of Syracuse’s ability to get into the paint that may go overlooked is the effect is had on Duke’s foul situation.  Amille Jefferson was killing the Orange in a sophomore year CJ Fair kind of way; finding  loose balls, getting put backs, finishing dishes.   Then he fouled out with 30 seconds left in regulation.  Jabari Parker was killing the Orange in a “I’m a damn good basketball player” kind of way.  Then he fouled out with 1:43 left in regulation.

The foul trouble Duke had to scramble (Coach Krzyzewski’s word) around can be directly attributed to the fact that Syracuse was the aggressor in the game.  It’s much easier to draw fouls when you’re attacking the rim than when you’re hanging around the three-point line.

Also, Duke’s porous perimeter defensive put them in bad situations all over the floor.  On the outside, they had to grab and hold Syracuse players to prevent them from getting a clear path to the basket.  And when the Orange players did get through, the pressure was applied to the Duke front court, resulting in fouls and, again, zero blocks.

The end result was that, when overtime came, two of Duke’s most effective players in the game were on the pine next to Coach K.  He was forced to go small, which led to those three straight dunks by Grant.  Of course, Duke did what they do, and kept the game close by hitting timely threes, but having Parker and Jefferson out of the game during extra time was critical.

CJ’s Signature Game

I’ll admit that I was wrong about some things.  In my official prediction I thought Syracuse would win a game in the 60’s.  I thought the Orange would be able to defend the three well, which they usually do.  Instead Duke shot 41.7% from deep.  Only Baylor and Miami have made a higher percentage against the Orange this season and, even then, they only had 19 and 17 attempts respectively.  So for Duke to shoot such a high percentage on so many shots is a credit to them, especially considering Syracuse was holding opponents to 33.2% from three on the season.

And I was wrong about who the star of the game would be.

I thought for sure that Tyler Ennis would go bananas on the Blue Devils.  Between the fact he’s a damn good ball player and the fact that Duke’s perimeter defense is “meh” at best, I though Tyler was going to have a field day.  Don’t get me wrong, he played an excellent game (14 points, 9 assists, 2 turnovers).  But the star of the game was the senior leader, CJ Fair.

I’ll admit that when Crustastic Jam-meister Fair was voted pre-season ACC POY, a part of me thought that it was given to him because the voters didn’t want to give the pre-season award to a freshman who hadn’t yet played a second of college ball (that would be Jabari Parker, by the way).  My feeling was validated when Parker stormed out of the gate with seven straight 20-point games.  At the same time, CJ was his steady, if not necessarily spectacular self.

If there was a game in which Fair could reassert his place in the ACC POY race, this was it.  CJ delivered, and then some.  It wasn’t his normal stat stuffer game.  But he scored a career-high 28 points and Syracuse needed every single one, including the second of a pair of late OT free throws that put the Orange up two.

Or course, it helped that Duke didn’t have anyone who could guard CJ.  Rodney Hood did a decent job until he racked up four fouls and had to play soft.  Other than that, CJ pretty much abused everyone Krzyzewski put on him.  He completely broke Marshall Plumee’s (forthwith to be knows as Plumlee, the Lesser) ankles en route to a monster jam in the second half.  And aside from that, it was CJ’s usual repertoire of mid-range jumpers and dives to the rim.

But regardless of the Blue Devil’s baby soft defense, CJ rose to the occasion.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this is probably one of the top five biggest game he’s ever played in.  Certainly the biggest regular season game.  And he absolutely shined.  So the career-high is great.  The 12-20 from the field is awesome.  Five boards and two blocks; icing on the cake.  But the fact that he accepted the challenge; basketball royalty came into the Dome and CJ stood toe to toe with the best and beat them.  That’s what we’ve been looking for from Carl Jr. all season.  As good as he’s been, Orange fans have been waiting for that senior moment when CJ would put the team on his back and carry the load.  This was that game, and it couldn’t have been more timely.

Will it result in CJ being voted ACC POY in his first and only season as a player in the conference?  I don’t know.   There’s still a lot of ball to be played.  But it was a definitive signature game and I hope it gives him the confidence to take that leading role for the remainder of his Syracuse career.

Epic Game, Epic Win

In his comments immediately after the game, Jim Boeheim called this the greatest game in the history of the Carrier Dome.  Given the fact that A) Jim B isn’t prone to hyperbole and B) he’s coached almost every game Syracuse has played in the building, that statement carries significance.

I’m not sure if one win over a blue-blood team cements Syracuse’s place among the elite of college basketball.  Probably not.  But I can say that it was an epic win, nonetheless.  A record-breaking crowd of 35,446.  A record-breaking win total of 1,915 between the two coaches when the final buzzer sounded.  A thrilling overtime game that came down to the last possession.  It was the game of the year so far and it’ll be one that’s hard to top.  I’m just glad Syracuse came out on top.

What do you think? Love it? Hate it? Leave your comments below.
Chris Daughtrey is the creator and author of Bleeding Orange. He is a contributor at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician and at Atlantic Coast Confidential. You can connect with him on Twitter @OrangeBlood 44 or search #OrangeBlood.

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