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Top-ranked Syracuse rallies in final seconds to go to 25-0

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SYRACUSE — It’s almost scary how Syracuse has responded this season in the face of unbelievable adversity.

Just four days removed from one of the most unbelievable finishes in Orange history at Pittsburgh, top-ranked SU perhaps topped that with a dramatic, last-second 56-55 Atlantic Coast Conference win over North Carolina State on Saturday to remain unbeaten.

This time it wasn’t freshman sensation Tyler Ennis, who beat Pitt on a last-second, 35-foot shot, or senior C.J. Fair, who rescued the Orange. SU has now won 10 games by single digits.

It was junior center Rakeem Christmas, who recorded a huge double-double, blocking a career-high seven shots and stealing a key pass that led to the winning bucket by Fair.

Christmas, with a team-high 14 points and a career-best 12 rebounds, read a trap by Trevor Cooney and Jerami Grant on North Carolina State’s Anthony Barber at the baseline with the Wolfpack protecting a one-point lead.

He fed Ennis, who passed to Fair for a layup that was ultimately called a goaltend with just 6.7 seconds to go to put the Orange ahead 56-55.

North Carolina State got the ball to leading scorer T. J. Warren, who missed a 20-footer in the waning seconds, as the Carrier Dome crowd of 31,572 erupted.

SU’s win streak remains intact at 25 games, 12-0 in the ACC. But coach Jim Boeheim said the fact that his team has not clicked offensively since the Duke game two weeks ago is a recurring problem.

“I don’t look at the record, but realistically we should be 20-5 if you look at the facts,’’ Boeheim said. “It’s a credit to these kids that they’ve found a way to win, especially the last two games. But going forward, with the toughest part of our schedule ahead (four of the next six games on the road), we need to ramp up the offense.’’

The Wolfpack (16-9, 6-6) held SU to 35 percent shooting, and got huge games from Warren (23 points) and freshman Kyle Washington (14 points, 10 rebounds).

North Carolina State did not arrive in Syracuse until about 3 p.m. Saturday after its charter flight from Raleigh, N.C., was postponed twice Friday night, forcing the game to be moved back four hours. Coach Mark Gottfried said for his team to put forth such a tremendous effort “was a testament to their heart and character.”

SU’s defense forced two turnovers in the final 30 seconds, and the Orange somehow survived again.

“You don’t assume you are going to win these games, but we’ve done it so many times we think we can,’’ said Ennis, who had probably his worst overall game of the season with nine points, five assists and four turnovers. “It’s about being comfortable that we can make a play when we’re down or it’s tied.’’

The Orange led 53-52 after a Grant free throw with 3:16 remaining. But after consecutive defensive stops, Fair and Grant (12 points, 14 rebounds) could not convert inside on two key possessions.

Ennis mistakenly fouled Ralston Turner taking a 3-pointer with 1:02 left, and the junior hit all three free throws to give the Wolfpack a 55-53 lead.

Fair, who scored 11 points on 5-for-16 shooting, then made one free throw, but missed the second at the 41.4-second mark.

After a North Carolina State timeout, Boeheim called for a sideline trap on backup point guard Desmond Lee. As Cooney and Ennis swarmed him, Lee dribbled the ball off his foot out of bounds, giving the Orange a break.

But Ennis was whistled for a push-off trying to get to the lane, and the Wolfpack took over with 14.9 seconds left. Warren got behind the defense on a long inbounds pass. But Cooney fouled him before Warren got off the shot, only SU’s sixth team foul, and North Carolina State inbounded again with 13.7 seconds to go.

This time, Cooney and Grant converged on Barber. He turned and threw a pass into traffic that Christmas picked off in mid-air. He got the ball immediately to Ennis, who saw Fair streaking to the hoop.

“After all the shots I missed, to make the game-winner feels pretty sweet,’’ Fair said. “I thought I’d let my team down by missing all of those shots and that free throw.’’

Said Christmas: “Jerami and Trevor did a good job of making their guy throw a bad pass. I anticipated he would throw it to the middle and just went for it.’’

“I think their guys looked up and saw two guys in their face and panicked,’’ Cooney said. “Then I think they thought we were going to foul, but coach told us not to.’’

Christmas also converted four straight free throws (six total), and Ennis a three-point play to help the Orange overcome its biggest deficit (50-45) and surge into a 51-50 lead.

“Rak was really the difference,’’ Boeheim said. “He covered the middle well, stayed out of foul trouble and gave us a big offensive lift when the other guys were struggling.’’


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