BOSTON C.J. Fair insisted he never lost confidence despite struggling mightily through the past six games.
And more importantly, neither Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim nor his Orange teammates lost faith in the 6-foot-8 sophomore forwards ability to make significant contributions.
Thursday night, when SU needed Fair the most, he came through with flying colors.
Shooting 7-for-9 from the floor, Fair led the top-seeded Orange with 15 big points during their 64-63 NCAA East Region semifinal win over fourth-seed Wisconsin at TD Garden.
No doubt we wouldnt have won without C.J., teammate Scoop Jardine said.
Weve all been behind him no matter what hes done, Jardine added. All we need from him is to play with maximum effort, and thats what hes been doing. But the shots havent been falling. When he plays like that on offense, were hard to beat.
Fair scored six points during SUs 11-0 first-half run that allowed them to take as much as a 10-point lead over the Badgers.
In the second half, Fair also came up with several key hoops.
Fairs 10-foot jumper tied it at 40-all. Then he followed that with a 15-footer on the baseline to give the Orange a four-point lead.
C.J.s been getting good looks, Boeheim said. But hes been off just a touch.
However, hes still been playing good defense and getting on the boards, so we knew it was just a matter of time before he broke out offensively, Boeheim added.
Fair rolled to the hoop for a key bucket later in the second half, extending the Orange lead to 48-41. But he saved his biggest play for crunch time.
With SU trailing 56-53 with less than seven minutes left, Fair followed a Dion Waiters miss, was fouled and converted the free throw on a huge SU possession.
If he doesnt make that play, and they score again, a four- or five-point lead is huge at that point, Boeheim said. People forget he averaged 15 points in the four games before his slump. So hes capable of doing something like this.
Fair said, I tried to be a little more patient with my shot tonight. I think Ive been rushing just a little bit. And my teammates were looking for me and getting me the ball in good scoring situations.
He also grabbed seven rebounds, including three on the offensive end, and came up with a team-high four steals.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said Fair did a good job of taking the ball to the basket. We knew he was a good player, but tonight he really stepped up.
On a night when the Orange needed every point to overcome a Wisconsins 14 3-point field goal, Fairs production was essential.
He gave us another big offensive weapon tonight, Jardine said. But thats what this team has done all year. Somebody different comes up big every game.
Fair said his coaches and teammates having his back makes all the difference. You can just go out there and play with confidence and not worry if you make a mistake.
He played well in last years two NCAA Tournament games, averaging nine points.
Fair said this is the time everybody has to step up in the games.
Its the postseason and I need to help my teammates any way I can, he said. Tonight I felt in a good rhythm and just kind of let it fly.