Syracuse heads into offseason with question marks
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — When his final game at Syracuse was over, C.J. Fair could only lament what might have been.
A year that began with 31 straight wins — six in the preseason and a school-record 25 to open the regular season that vaulted the Orange to No. 1 in the nation — ended with a thud in the third round of the NCAA tournament when the Orange offense stalled against Dayton.
“We kind of got ourself together, but it was kind of too late,” said Fair, the team’s leading scorer. “One or two possessions too late.”
Syracuse (28-6), seeded third in the South Regional, failed to reach the Sweet 16 on Saturday night, its season coming to an abrupt end when freshman point guard Tyler Ennis’s 3-pointer from the top of the key clanged off the rim at the buzzer and No. 11 seed Dayton escaped with a 55-53 victory.
The Orange missed all 10 shots they attempted from 3-point range. It was the first time since March 10, 1995 that Syracuse failed to convert a 3-point attempt, a stretch of 664 consecutive games. It was their sixth loss in nine games.
Not the best way to go out.
“Well, when you make shots, you win,” coach Jim Boeheim said. “When you don’t make shots, you lose in close games. We won seven straight close games early in the year, we made shots. It was different people. Tyler made some. C.J. made some. Jerami Grant made a couple. But we made shots. We’ve got to be better on offense.”
And so Syracuse enters the offseason with some big question marks. The Orange lose their leading scorer in Fair and an energetic defender in 6-foot-10 Baye Moussa Keita, and two important decisions will have a big bearing on next year’s team. Ennis, the standout freshman and the only true point guard on the team, and Grant, who will be a junior, have to decide whether to enter the NBA Draft or come back for more seasoning before turning pro.
The deadline for players to enter their names in the draft is April 27, and players can opt to withdraw from the list by June 16 — as long as they haven’t hired an agent. The draft is June 26.
Both players had spotty performances in the NCAA tournament, and Boeheim conducts postseason interviews with all of his players in an effort to guide them toward the best decision.
Center Rakeem Christmas returns for his final season and will offer solid defense in the middle, but big Dajuan Coleman has been plagued by knee injuries that have limited his play and development in his first two years. He played in only 13 games in 2013-14 before season-ending surgery in January.
Shooting guard Trevor Cooney will return for his junior year. Though erratic from long range after midseason, he hit nine 3-pointers against Notre Dame. It marked one of eight games with at least five 3-pointers and he finished the season 90 of 240 (37.5 percent). He was the Orange’s main option from long range, though Ennis hit 30 of 85 (35.3 percent), and the team really needs another.
Duke transfer Michael Gbinije played in every game and saved his best for last, hitting 4 of 5 shots in 22 minutes against Dayton to help keep the Orange close at the end.
While Ennis was a leader with remarkable poise, the Orange’s three other freshmen didn’t play much. Tyler Roberson saw action in 20 games, starting once, and shot 14 of 47 (29.8 percent), while Ron Patterson and B.J. Johnson played in only 10 games apiece, combining for 42 points. Chinonso Obokoh, a 6-foot-10 native of Nigeria who played high school ball in Rochester, redshirted.
Syracuse has another strong incoming class: 6-foot-6 guard Malachi Richardson, a five-star recruit; 6-2 guard Kaleb Joseph, who helped Cushing Academy of Massachusetts to its second straight New England Prep School Athletic Conference championship; 6-9 forward Chris McCullough; and Tyler Lydon.