WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim doesn’t put much stock in freshmen hitting the so-called wall in their first season.
But he saw one of his standout players make yet another leap of sorts Wednesday night.
Guard Tyler Ennis scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half as No. 2 Syracuse fended off Wake Forest 67-57 at Joel Coliseum.
“He hit (the wall) in the first half,” Boeheim said. “Then he climbed it. He played like a senior in the second half. He gets going and that’s the difference.”
Those types of performances could take Syracuse to new heights.
The Orange (20-0, 7-0 ACC), one of three remaining unbeaten Division I teams in the country, matched the best start in school history heading into Saturday night’s showdown against visiting Duke.
Syracuse overcame 38.2 percent shooting from the field to withstand Wake Forest.
“We got out in transition (in the second half) and that helped a lot,” Ennis said. “I think it opened up. … We stuck with it and made the shots we had to make to keep the lead.”
Ennis made his first six shots of the second half after going 0-for-6 from the field in the first half.
Forward C.J. Fair added 16 points and forward Jerami Grant had 10 points for the Orange.
Forward Devin Thomas and forward Travis McKie each finished with 12 points for the Demon Deacons (14-7, 4-4).
The outcome ended Wake Forest’s 13-game homecourt winning streak, including 12 games this season.
Wake Forest failed to reach the 60-point mark for the third time in ACC play.
“Our defense was good,” Boeheim said. “It was probably good because both teams kept missing. When they got an open look, they didn’t make them. The same with us.”
The Demon Deacons hovered within 54-49 with five minutes to play.
“We need to hit some of those timely 3s,” said McKie, who was 1-for-7 from long range. “Those are shots we can make.”
Wake Forest was 3-for-20 on 3-pointers.
Thousands of Syracuse fans were among those in the crowd, creating an electric environment at times.
“I don’t know where these people come from,” Boeheim said. “I was shocked there was so many people (wearing Orange).”
Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney didn’t score until hitting an 18-foot jumper as the shot clock wound down with 1:42 left for a 58-49 lead.
Syracuse, which trailed in the second half at some point in each of its previous three games, withstood several Wake Forest threats. By game’s end, a 55-35 rebounding edge favored the Orange.
“We have to carve out space and block people out,” Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “We didn’t do as good of a job with that as we would have liked.”
Syracuse broke out to a couple of nine-point leads in the second half only to have the Demon Deacons close within five.
Wake Forest had won its previous two games to notch consecutive victories for the first time since mid-December. Guard Codi Miller-McIntyre’s foul trouble proved to be a problem and he finished with a season-low four points.
Syracuse led 26-23 at halftime after an eight-point lead slipped away.
The Orange overcame 25.8 percent (8-of-31) first-half shooting by grabbing 11 offensive rebounds.
Even though McKie hit a 3-pointer to end the half, Wake Forest had its lowest point total in a half this season.
Wake Forest made only one of nine shots from the field at the outset.
But with forward Arnaud-William Adala Moto’s dunk over Syracuse backup center Baye Moussa Keita and guard Miller-McIntyre’s free throw, the Demon Deacons held a 12-6 edge midway through the first half.
Syracuse shot 2-for-17 at the start, going through a drought of nearly nine minutes without a field goal until Fair’s 3-pointer.
The Orange surged to a 16-13 lead, capped by forward Michael Gbinije’s 3-point basket.
Miller-McIntyre’s third foul came with 6:18 to play in the half, and Fair’s free throw pushed Syracuse’s lead to 19-14 on the way to a 25-17 edge.
Wake Forest made just six of its first 12 free throws.
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