C.J. Fair‘s consistent 21-point effort was just what the second-ranked Syracuse Orange needed to hold off a spirited upset bid by the St. John’s Red Storm at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY on Sunday afternoon. The Orange won the game 68-63, blowing a 13-point lead in the second half, then finishing strong thanks to Fair and improved defense.
Fair scored 10 points in the first half and 11 in the second for Syracuse (10-0), who won by the slimmest margin so far in their 10-game winning streak to start the season. He was key to Syracuse’s response after the Red Storm (6-3) took a 60-58 lead with 5:48 left on a layup by Orlando Sanchez. Fair could often be found along the baseline, to the right side of Syracuse’s offense. His 6-foot-8 frame was enough to allow him to shoot over a St. John’s zone defense that had given Syracuse some issues earlier in the second half.
Fair hit two such jumpers in a 79-second span late in the second half. The first gave the Orange a 64-60, while the second made it 66-61 in Syracuse’s favor and for the most part, ended St. John’s hopes of a victory. Fair also contributed six rebounds and two assists, including one big rebound late after a Jerami Grant blocked shot with Syracuse up seven with 33 seconds to go.
The 21 points Sunday marked the fourth time this season that Fair has scored at least 20 points in a game. Fair hit 9-of-18 from the field, the fourth straight game that Fair has at least hit 50 percent of his shots from the field. Fair is shooting 46.7 percent for the season.
Fair and fellow big man Grant keyed an impressive Syracuse defensive effort over the final minutes. Facing Syracuse’s trademark zone defense, St. John’s failed to hit a single field goal against the defense over the final 8:25 of the game. That basket, a running shot by D’Angelo Harrison (21 points), gave St. John’s a 55-54 lead. Prior to the drought from the field, St. John’s had hit seven shots when matched up against the Syracuse zone in the second half. Fair and his teammates outscored the Red Storm 14-8 the rest of the way, however, to get the victory.
The effort Fair put forth on both ends of the floor comes at a good time for Syracuse, who, after hosting High Point on Dec. 20, face another old Big East rival on Dec. 28 when the 10th-ranked Villanova Wildcats visit the Orange for a non-conference game.
The 21-point effort increased Fair’s season average to 18.1 points per game.