Facing a four-point deficit at the half, it seemed like the Orange were headed for their fourth straight home loss. That’s when C.J. Fair and Brandon Triche decided to take over. The duo sparked what may have been Syracuse’s best half of the season, and helped the Orange to a 63-52 win over West Virginia.
“I thought the other day we played one of the best second halves we’ve played all year long,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “Brandon really showed some things and he’s starting to take charge and that carried over to tonight.”
Triche scored on the first play of the game when he connected on a 3-pointer from the right wing. The sophomore guard’s aggressive play was a fixture throughout the evening as the Orange needed all of his team-high 20 points.
“After making that first one I felt like I would make them all,” Triche said. “I got a couple of more looks that I missed and I wished I would have got those to go in, but I was just trying to take the open shot. Me being aggressive gives the team a chance to get rebounds.”
While Triche was leading the way offensively for the Orange, Fair was heading the hustle category. In a close game that featured five ties and four lead changes, it seemed like every time the Orange needed a crucial bucket, big rebound or timely steal, Fair was coming up with it. While the freshman’s box score will only exhibit eight points, five rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes, his impact on the game’s final outcome was vital for the Orange.
“My role on the team is not to come in and try to lead the team in scoring, so I try to do the other things like rebound, get loose balls, and hustle,” Fair said.
In a back-and-forth contest, the stats that usually get overlooked made the difference in deciding the outcome of the Valentine’s Day matchup. The Orange were able to do damage down low as they outscored West Virginia 34-4 in the paint. The Orange also scored 19 points in transition and held the Mountaineers scoreless in the fast break column.
West Virginia were able to counter with 29 points off the bench compared to the Orange’s eight that were all scored by Fair. However, the Mountaineers' biggest advantage was from behind the 3-point line as they shot 50 percent (11-of-22) as a team. Senior Casey Mitchell led the 3-point barrage for the Mountaineers as he connected on 7-of-12 and scored a game-high of 23 points.
After the game, WVU head coach Bob Huggins was visually disappointed as he witnessed his team blow a lead at the half that would have given his squad an impressive road victory.
“They’re good,” Huggins said, referring to the Orange. “I’ve got great respect for Jim and what he does and how well he teaches the zone, but I’d be lying if I told you we didn’t throw it in there. We threw it in there, but just didn’t make any of them.”
With four games left in the regular season and two games over .500 (8-6) in Big East play, Scoop Jardine knows that it’s up to him and his teammates to get things in order before tournament play starts.
“This game was big for us, and this was our season,” Jardine said. “You don’t want to leave nothing in nobody’s hand, so you want to take care of business. We put ourselves into this hole and we have to dig ourselves out, from here on out.”