TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Mired in one of its worst slumps in years, No. 7 Syracuse broke out in a big way Sunday afternoon with a much-needed road win at Florida State, 74-58, that may very well push the Seminoles off the NCAA Tournament bubble.
The Orange (27-4 overall, 14-4 in ACC), whose four biggest stars — forwards C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant, guard Tyler Ennis and center Rakeen Christmas — all finished in double figures in the win.
Syracuse came into the game having lost four of its last five after racing out to a 25-0 record and No. 1 ranking in the nation.
Fair finished with a team-high 22 points, seven rebounds and four steals, while Grant finished with 16 points and eight boards in his first game back since injury. Ennis also scored 16 points, while Christmas chipped in 12 points and six rebounds.
The victory to close the regular season in the first-ever ACC meeting between the two schools will send Syracuse into next week’s ACC Tournament as the No. 2 seed, while FSU will either be the No. 8 or 9 seed depending on the outcome of Sunday’s game between Boston College and N.C. State.
FSU came into the game as one of the teams on the proverbial NCAA Tournament bubble in most experts’ mock field, and its first lost in three games may have hurt their chances — barring a strong showing in Greensboro, N.C., site of this year’s ACC Tournament.
Florida State (18-12, 9-9) got a huge game from forward Okaro White with 20 points and 11 rebounds, while guard Ian Miller added 16 points and guard Aaron Thomas chipped in 14.
But Syracuse crushed FSU on the glass, 43-24, and when Christmas jammed home back-to-back buckets with under three minutes to play, the 10,435 fans in Tallahassee — representing the largest crowd of the season at the Donald L. Tucker Center — headed for the exits.
Syracuse jumped out a 33-27 halftime lead thanks to a furious final five minutes by the Orange on both ends of the floor.
Ennis’ jumper started an 11-0 run, which also featured a 3-pointer by Fair and then a personal 5-0 run by Ennis. The Orange’s defense also recorded two steals, two blocks and grabbed four offensive rebounds during the run.
One of the biggest questions coming into the game was how Florida State would try to break down’s Syracuse’s tough 2-3 zone, and early on the Seminoles attacked it over and over. But they weren’t able to finish at the basket and the Orange grabbed a 7-2 lead in the opening 4 1/2 minutes after FSU turned the ball over twice, missed two layups and failed to hit their opening three free throws.
The Seminoles quickly closed the gap, however, thanks to White, who was one of three FSU seniors playing their final home game Sunday.
In a span of less than four minutes around the halfway mark of the first half, White scored eight straight points thanks to an and-1 dunk, a spot-up 3-pointer and a layup in traffic that gave FSU a 16-15
lead with a little over eight minutes to play. White led all scorers in the first half with 14 points and six rebounds.
The two teams then traded the lead back and forth until Ennis put Syracuse back in front by three points, 23-20, with 5:44 left before intermission, providing a spark that helped the Orange seize control.
Ennis led all Orange scorers in the first half with 12 points, and the Orange also dominated the Seminoles on the glass in the first half, outrebounding them 23-11, including seven on the offensive end.
Syracuse leads the all-time series 4-1 following the win, but Sunday’s game marked the first meeting between the two schools in 17 years. They last faced off in the NIT Tournament in 1997, when the Seminoles won 82-67 to give them first victory in the series.
NOTES: Before the game, Florida State honored its three seniors on Senior Day — Fs forwards Robert Gilchrist (London, England) and Okaro White (Clearwater, Fla.) and G Ian Miller (Charlotte, N.C.). … No. 7 Syracuse represented the highest-ranked Florida State has faced this season, at home or on the road. FSU is 2-4 in those games, including four straight
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