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Syracuse hoops captures its inaugural ACC opener

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SYRACUSE — Syracuse’s initial foray into Atlantic Coast Conference basketball was supposed to be a cakewalk for the Orange.

Hosting a Miami team that was decimated by graduation and had already lost five games, the second-ranked and unbeaten Orange figured to make quick work of the Hurricanes as a new era of SU hoops dawned on Saturday.

But it took all that Jim Boeheim’s team could muster down the stretch to make the Orange’s ACC debut a success. SU used a 14-4 run in the final six minutes to erase a five-point deficit and hang on for an ugly 49-44 win before 21,839 anxious fans at the Carrier Dome.

Senior C.J. Fair scored 15 points for SU (14-0 overall, 1-0 ACC), redshirt sophomore Trevor Cooney added 11 points despite a poor shooting day and freshman Tyler Ennis added 10, including six in the final three minutes.

Boeheim, who had coached 34 years in the Big East Conference before the switch to the ACC, said games like this, especially in conference play, will likely happen more often.

“Teams will try to slow us down, use a lot of shot clock and just be really patient,’’ Boeheim said. “We’ve seen that before several times already this year and handled it pretty well. Today, we just missed some shots we’ve been making, and that really slows you down on offense.’’

Miami’s 2-3 matchup zone was the perfect antidote to slow down the Orange, averaging 76 points a game. SU shot 36 percent from the floor (17-for-47), second-worst of the season, went 3-of-15 on 3-pointers, and counted only three transition points.

Still, the Orange made enough plays on both ends down the stretch to turn what could have been a disastrous loss into a dramatic victory.

“You have to keep telling yourself to be patient,” said Ennis, who also had seven assists. “Pick your spots when they are there and rely on your playmakers to do their thing.’’

SU held a 25-21 halftime lead, but missed its first 11 shots of the second half. Miami (8-6, 0-2) used a 14-4 run to seize its biggest lead, 35-29, eight minutes into the second half.

Fair finally broke the long SU drought with a 3-pointer from the corner with 11:05 left. But the Orange managed one hoop in the next four minutes, and the 19-point underdog Hurricanes built a 40-35 lead as the clock wound down to six minutes.

“It’s frustrating when they take away so much and we’re not making any shots,’’ Fair said. “You have to believe in yourself and know that when things get tough, you can still make plays.’’

Junior forward Rakeem Christmas (8 points, 7 rebounds) started SU’s final comeback with a left-handed jump hook in the lane.

Jerami Grant, starting his second straight game in place of the injured DaJuan Coleman, then hit a 15-foot jumper for only his second field goal.

After Fair took a charge on defense, he converted a driving hoop to finally put SU ahead again, 41-40. Ennis then drove untouched down the lane for one of SU’s few easy baskets to extend the lead to 43-40 with 3:20 to play.

“Their big guys were rotating over most of the game and taking that driving lane away,’’ Ennis said. “At the end, they were kind of spread out a little more and I just took advantage of the openings.’’

After Miami finally broke its four-minute scoring drought, Ennis answered with a tough, underhand layup.

Christmas then made one of the biggest defensive plays of the game, intercepting a lob pass underneath on Miami’s next possession.

Cooney, who shot 2-for-12 behind the arc, including 0 of 7 the second half, made two free throws with 24.8 seconds left.

After Miami closed the gap to 47-44 with a field goal at the 9.1-second mark, Ennis hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with 7.6 seconds left to ice it.

“On a normal day, Trevor makes four or five of those shots and we’re OK,’’ Boeheim said. “But even the great shooters have an off day. I guess we’ve been spoiled. When that happens, we have to find different ways to score. Our offense needs to get better for games exactly like this.’’

Said Cooney: “My shot didn’t feel any different, but it just wasn’t dropping. You tell yourself to keep shooting and try to do some of the other little things to help us win.’’

Miami coach Jim Larranaga said his squad played “its heart out. To come into this place and do what we wanted to do on defense, and make seven threes was great. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a way to finish, again.’’

Defending ACC regular-season and playoff champion Miami, which was led by Garrius Adams with nine points, has lost three overtime games.

SU plays its first ACC road game at Virginia Tech on Tuesday before returning home to host North Carolina at noon Saturday in one of the most anticipated matchups of the ACC season.

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