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Sweating out No. 900


SYRACUSE — On one of the most historic nights in Syracuse basketball history, the Orange’s on-the-court drama nearly took the luster off one of their Hall of Fame coach’s signature moments.

Seemingly cruising to coach Jim Boeheim’s 900th career victory with a 20-point lead at the six-minute mark of the second half, SU needed five key free throws by sophomore Michael Carter-Williams in the final 27 seconds to hold off upset-minded Detroit 72-68 in the Gotham Classic at the Carrier Dome.

Boeheim, who joined Mike Krzyzewski (936) and Bobby Knight (902) as the only coaches to win 900 games at the Division I level, said the significance of his achievement will always be a tribute to the kids in uniform. And the staunchly loyal SU fans.

“You win with great players, like we’ve had, and the support of fans like ours,” Boeheim said. “You can’t overestimate how much the fans make a difference, especially in games like this where they willed us to win over that final few minutes. They are one of the reasons I’ve stayed here this long because of what they mean to the programand our university.’’

Third-ranked SU (10-0), extending its national best home winning streak to 30 games, led 64-45 with 6:09 remaining and the crowd of 17,902 anticipating an early celebration.

But the Titans (6-5) spoiled that, holding the Orange scoreless for nearly five minutes and using a 19-2 run to pull within 67-64 following a driving hoop by Jason Calliste with 29.3 seconds left.

Forced to foul, Detroit sent Carter-Williams to the linethree times over the final 25 seconds. The cool point guard made five of six foul shots to help the Orange survive in its closest game of the season.

“I made some bad turnovers over those final five minutes, so I wanted to be at the line,’’ said Carter-Williams, who posted a fifth straight double-double with 12 points and 10 assists. “It shouldn’t have come down to that, but it did and I needed to respond.’’

Senior James Southerland scored 22 points and helped shoot the Orange into a comfortable 40-21 halftime lead with 16 first-half points. He finished 5 of 8 on 3-pointers.

“We know all of our games aren’t going to be like most of the first 10,’’ Southerland said. “But to find out that we can react positively to adversity is a good thing.’’

For really the first time this season, SU was unable to close out the victory in timely fashion. Boeheim said that may actually be a good thing.

“You often can learn more from a near-loss like this than a lot of the games we’ve won,’’ he said. “We haven’t watched a lot of tape because there hasn’t been a lot to criticize. But now we can look at some bad fouls, letting shooters get wide open, and three or four unforced turnovers that held us back and use them as teaching points.’’

After a Rakeem Christmas jump hook made it 67-48 at the 5:27 mark, SU turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions, missed five straight shots, and looked out of sync on both offense and defense.

Juwan Howard Jr. led the Detroit comeback, scoring 12 of his 18 points in that closing run that had Boeheim thinking the Titans may ruin his special day.

“That was more pressure than I’ve felt in a long time,’’ said Boeheim, who was presented a plaque signed by all of his players afterward. “The players probably thought we were in control, but we were not prepared for them to attack like they did. That’s a good lesson, learning you can never let up no matter what the scoreboard says.’’

Boeheim said SU executed about as well as it could the first 34 minutes. “The last seven minutes, they were a lot looser. But we’re going to see that a lot in the Big East, where we’re protecting a smaller lead and need to execute down the stretch.’’

SU finished with a season-high 18 turnovers, including an uncharacteristic six by Carter-Williams.

“That’s the first game Michael got caught up in the air several times and had no place to go with the ball,’’ Boeheim said. “But when he had to go to the line and make those shots, he did.’’

Among those on hand to witness Boeheim’s milestone win was fellow Hall of Famer, and one-time SU backcourt mate and roommate Dave Bing. Now the mayor of Detroit, Bing surprised Boeheim by coming into the Orange locker room prior to the game for a chat.

“We had a great talk and it’s always geat to see him,’’ Boeheim said. “Most people don’t realize that Dave Bing made Syracuse basketball. Before he came here, we had lost something like 27 in a row the year before and 200 people came to our games. To me, he will always be the best that’s ever played here.’’

Bing said Boeheim’s consistency on the court is matched by his consistency off the court.

“Jim is the same guy I knew as a skinny, young teenager looking for a roommate,’’ Bing said. “He’s still pretty introverted and doesn’t let a lot of his feelings out. But he’s a great man, a great father, and obviously, a great coach.’’

Boeheim said what the 900 wins means to him is that, “I’ve stayed here longer than I ever thought I would. But I would have been just as satisfied if I had stopped at 700 or 800,’’ he said.

Senior Brandon Triche echoed the thoughts of the players on Boeheim’s accomplishment.

“It’s an incredible achievement, especially when you think he did it all at one school,’’ Triche said. “I know when I’m old and gray, I’ll still remember this night fondly.’’

SU is now off until another Gotham Classic matchup with once-beaten Temple at noon Saturday in Madison Square Garden.

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