C.J. Fair of the Syracuse Orange celebrates the winning basket against North Carolina State. (Rich Barnes / Getty Images)
Syracuse, N.Y. — Syracuse’s streak lives on — barely.
With their key players struggling, the top-ranked Orange used their defense to remain unbeaten, edging North Carolina State 56-55 on C.J. Fair’s layup with 6.7 seconds left Saturday night.
Rakeem Christmas started the winning sequence with a steal in the lane off a trap in the left corner, and Fair finished it with a layup in transition.
“We got out of it by making a good play at the end,” Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. “We were able to make some good plays finally at the end, and one big play.”
The start of the game was pushed back four hours because of a snowstorm that wreaked havoc along the eastern seaboard. N.C. State did not land in Syracuse until Saturday afternoon. The team’s Twitter account announced the Wolfpack’s arrival at 3:07 p.m., seven minutes later than the original scheduled tip-off.
It turned out to be worth the wait, tight all the way through a frantic finish full of missed opportunities.
“They’re terrific,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “Obviously, when you have a year like they’re having, when you’re undefeated you’re going to have some close ones, some not-so-close ones. We just tried to prepare for them as best we could and I thought our guys did a great job.”
Ralston Turner missed a 3 for N.C. State with 2:45 left with Syracuse clinging to a one-point lead, and then Fair was off on a hook driving across the lane. After N.C. State’s Anthony Barber hit the side of the backboard with a baseline jumper, Jerami Grant missed a spinning drive in the lane for Syracuse.
Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, so cool and collected all year, then showed he’s human, fouling Turner while shooting a 3, and he made all three free throws to give the Wolfpack a 55-53 lead with 62 seconds left.
Fair sank 1 of 2 foul shots with 41.4 seconds remaining and N.C. State’s Desmond Lee then lost the ball out of bounds when he was double-teamed at midcourt.
Ennis negated that turnover with a charge with 14.7 seconds left, but the Wolfpack couldn’t close it out.
Wolfpack star T.J. Warren was fouled in the back by Trevor Cooney and his shot went in, but the basket was waved off. The referees ruled the infraction occurred before the shot, forcing N.C. State to inbound the ball and setting up the winning trap in the corner.
“That should have counted,” Gottfried said. “That was a made basket to put us up three with T.J. going to the line to go up four. That changed things.”
Christmas had 14 points and set career highs with 12 rebounds and seven blocks as Syracuse earned its 10th single-digit win despite shooting 35.2 percent. Grant had 12 points and 14 rebounds, and Fair scored 11 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
“We keep our composure all the time,” Christmas said. “We don’t let anything get to us.”
After Fair’s winning layup, Warren missed from the top of the key on one last try for N.C. State. Warren finished with 23 points, Kyle Washington had 14 and Turner 13 for the Wolfpack.
Despite its torrid season, Syracuse (25-0, 12-0) is clinging to a half-game lead over Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Orange’s start is the third-best in ACC history, behind only North Carolina State (27-0) in 1973 and North Carolina (32-0) in 1957.
North Carolina State (16-9, 6-6) was looking for its seventh win over the nation’s No. 1 team. It got its last one just over a year ago, beating Duke 84-76.
The Wolfpack, who had won five of six, shot 39 percent (22 of 56) from the field.
Syracuse was coming off a dramatic last-second victory at No. 25 Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Ennis hit a 3-pointer from 35 feet as time expired to lift the Orange to a 58-56 road win.
But the hostile Carrier Dome crowd of 31,572 didn’t seem to faze the Wolfpack, who used Warren’s big effort to hang right with Syracuse. He scored six straight points to start the second half and Washington’s hook in the lane gave N.C. State a 34-30 lead.
Syracuse tied it at 34 on a slam by Christmas off an air ball by Fair from the right corner, and foul trouble on the Wolfpack hurt their chances. Grant’s follow off a miss by Christmas gave Syracuse its first lead of the second half at 40-39 with 9:19 left.
There were seven ties and seven lead changes in the opening half, and the Wolfpack had the biggest advantage at 26-22 after a driving backdoor layup by Warren.
A spinning drive through the lane and layup by Fair and a fast-break dunk by Cooney off a Wolfpack turnover in the closing 2:11 made it 26-26 at the break.
It was Syracuse’s fourth crowd of more than 30,000 this season. That’s the most in any single season since Syracuse had six Carrier Dome crowds of more than 30,000 in 1990-91.
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No. 3 Florida 69, (at) No. 14 Kentucky 59: Scottie Wilbekin scored 23 points, including five critical free throws down the stretch, and Florida rallied for the win in a matchup of the Southeastern Conference's top two teams.
The Gators tied a school record with their 17th straight win.
Trailing 45-38 with 11:12 remaining, the veteran Gators (23-2, 12-0) turned to their best players down the stretch of their first victory at Rupp Arena since 2007. Wilbekin went 11 of 12 at the line, including two technical free throws with 8:14 left.
Casey Prather scored 24 points for Florida on 8-of-9 shooting. Patric Young added 10 points, including two three-point plays during a 13-3 spurt that put the Gators ahead for good.
(At) No. 5 San Diego State 64, Air Force 56: Winston Shepard scored 14 of his 16 points in the final 7 minutes, 14 seconds, and San Diego State bounced back from its first loss since mid-November. Thames and Dwayne Polee II each scored 13 points for SDSU (22-2, 11-1 Mountain West).
(At) No. 7 Kansas 95, TCU 65: Perry Ellis scored a career-high 32 points, Andrew Wiggins added 17 and Kansas overcame a sluggish start to get the win. Ellis also had eight rebounds and five assists, and Wayne Selden Jr. scored 15 points for the Jayhawks (19-6, 10-2 Big 12).
(At) No. 8 Duke 69, Maryland 67: Jabari Parker scored 23 points and Duke held on for the victory. Rodney Hood and Rasheed Sulaimon added 11 points each for the Blue Devils (20-5, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference).
(At) No. 10 Cincinnati 73, Houston 62: Sean Kilpatrick scored 28 points and Justin Jackson overcame foul problems to add 13 points and Cincinnati shook off Houston. Shaquille Thomas added 11 for the Bearcats (23-3, 12-1 American Athletic Conference).
(At) No. 11 Iowa State 70, Texas Tech 64: DeAndre Kane had 17 points with nine assists and Iowa State won after blowing an 18-point lead in the second half. Georges Niang also had 17 points for the Cyclones (19-5, 7-5 Big 12).
(At) No. 12 Saint Louis 64, VCU 62: Dwayne Evans had 21 points and 10 rebounds and Saint Louis broke a late tie with seven straight points for its 17th straight victory. The Billikens (23-2, 10-0 Atlantic 10) blew a 12-point second-lead before finally putting away VCU (20-6, 8-3) in a matchup of the Atlantic 10’s top two teams.
No. 17 Virginia 63, Clemson 58: Joe Harris scored 16 points, including a critical 3-pointer with about three minutes left, and No. 17 Virginia won its ninth straight Atlantic Coast Conference game for the first time in 32 years. The Cavaliers (21-5) moved to 12-1 in ACC play.
(At) No. 19 Texas 88, West Virginia 71: Javan Felix scored 18 points and Texas used another impressive offensive performance to stay within a game of the Big 12 lead. Texas (20-5, 9-3) put five players in double figures and shot better than 60 percent for most of the game.
(At) No. 24 UConn 86, No. 20 Memphis 81 (OT): Shabazz Napier scored a career-high 34 points and Connecticut beat Memphis to sweep the season series from the Tigers. Ryan Boatright added 21 points for UConn (20-5, 8-4 American Athletic Conference), including eight in overtime. Joe Jackson had 24 points for the Tigers (19-6, 8-4).
(At) North Carolina 75, No. 25 Pittsburgh 71: James Michael McAdoo had 24 points and 12 rebounds to help North Carolina to its sixth straight victory. Marcus Paige added 18 points for the Tar Heels (17-7, 7-4 Atlantic Coast Conference).