BUFFALO Tyler Ennis came out of nowhere to be the face of the Syracuse Orange this season.
His consistent play, his calm demeanor and his knack for making big plays at key times had helped SU start 25-0, win 28 games and be on the verge of making another NCAA Sweet 16.
But for all of the great things the rookie point guard from Brampton, Ontario, did this season for the Orange, what he didnt do in the final 20 seconds here Saturday will probably linger for awhile.
Ennis missed the final two shots of the season for SU. The first, a 16-footer, would have forged a tie with Dayton with 16 seconds remaining in the NCAA South Region third-round game.
The last, from just outside the top of the key and the 3-point line, could have won the game, but was just a bit too strong in the final two seconds.
Though no one was blaming Ennis for the loss, the low-key freshman took the defeat hard. He said his teammates were counting on him, and he let them down.
Ive taken those shots a thousand times and made them, so I had a lot of confidence they would go down, Ennis said in a somber SU locker room. When youve won as many close games as we have, you take those shots knowing you can make them. Im disappointed for myself, but especially for my teammates.
SU coach Jim Boeheim, who has rarely directed criticism at his rookie leader, said Ennis got a good final look and was going for the win. I have no problem with that.
However, the veteran coach did say that with Ennis getting to the basket so easily in the final few minutes, he probably should have made a decision to keep doing it instead of settling for jumpers. But who can criticize a kid that was helped win so many games for us.
Ennis would not say if this possibly could have been his last game in a SU uniform. Most mock NBA Drafts have him firmly in the top 10, and possibly even a lottery pick (between No. 1 to No. 14).
I havent even thought anything about that, he said. Right now, Im focused on coming back and helping this team win a national title next year.
Ennis would have plenty to work on if he returns. He shot 7-for-21 from the floor Saturday, and missed all five of his 3-pointers.
He needs to get stronger and work on his shot, SU assistant coach Gerry McNamara said. Defensively, he must be a lot tougher and quicker. But he certainly has all the tools to be a great player whether he stays or goes.
Fair bows out
While Ennis, and probably sophomore forward Jerami Grant, could likely return to give the Orange a head-start for next season, SU will certainly miss C.J. Fairs consistent play.
The senior forward from Baltimore scored 14 points in his swan song against Dayton, finishing his career with 1,646 points, good for 15th on the all-time Orange scoring list.
You would love to finish going to the Final Four or winning a national title, but thats just the way it goes, Fair said. Its been a privilege to play for Syracuse and coach Boeheim. Ive learned so much about how to play the game right, and how to be a good student and citizen.
Fair was a first-team All-ACC selection, hitting double figures in all but two games and was named one of the 15 finalists for the Wooden Award.
Boeheim said Fairs career should be cherished.
What he has accomplished in four years here is amazing, Boeheim said. Hes improved every year. Hes worked so hard to become a great player. But hes never stopped being a great kid.
Fair is projected as a mid-to-late second-round NBA pick. Boeheim said any pro team would be lucky to have him on their squad. He can do a lot of things to help a team, Boeheim said. All he needs is an opportunity.
Fair said leaving SU will be the hardest thing Ive ever done. This place has turned me from a kid into a man.