It was clear long before tipoff that Saturday’s game between the University of Miami and No. 2 Syracuse — though geographically 1,200 miles away from the Carrier Dome — was not truly a road game for the Orange.
Thousands of diehard Syracuse fans, many of them transplanted New Yorkers, poured into the sold-out arena for a rare chance to see their beloved undefeated team in person. They roared as the Syracuse players were introduced, chanted “Let’s Go Orange!” and left relieved after their team withstood the pesky Hurricanes 64-52 in a game much closer than its score.
The Orange improved to 19-0, tying the second-best start in school history, and is 6-0 in its inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Miami dropped to 10-9, 2-5 in the ACC.
“We get more requests here for tickets than any place,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “When I saw [former Syracuse and Heat center] Rony [Seikaly] came, I knew we couldn’t lose. It was good to see him sitting there behind the bench. We get great turnouts down here in Florida. Our fans were surely half the people here. That’s just the way it is.”
For much of the first half, the Syracuse faithful had plenty to be happy about. Their team took a 26-8 lead after three consecutive baskets by C.J. Fair. At that point in the game, the Orange was shooting 71 percent and Miami a dismal 19 percent.
But the Hurricanes, still hurting from a passive performance against Duke on Wednesday night, refused to give up. Garrius Adams, Manu Lecomte and Rion Brown all made three-pointers during a 16-2 run, and James Kelly added an exclamation point with a thunderous dunk that shrunk the 18-point deficit to four.
UM trailed 31-26 at halftime, and took a 47-46 lead with 8:20 to go on a three-point play by freshman Davon Reed. It was UM’s first lead since the opening minute.
The score was 49-49 with 5:25 remaining, and UM was down just three with 2:48 to go. A huge three by Trevor Cooney put Syracuse up by six, the Orange clamped down and made eight consecutive free throws in the closing minutes. The Canes made only one field goal in the final eight minutes.
“I really didn’t think they played that well the second half, but one thing they do excellent is just closing out down the stretch,” said Reed, who led UM with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting. “They did the little things.”
This Syracuse team has made a habit of falling behind and coming back late. It did it against UM at the Carrier Dome earlier this month, and against Boston College and Pitt.
“I thought that was a very, very good college basketball game,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Right up until last minute and a half, we were right where we needed and wanted to be. But Syracuse is that good. Tyler Ennis is that good. I told our players, this is when he starts to attack, with six or seven minutes to go in the game. He doesn’t appear to be a freshman. In fact, he’s so calm out there, you don’t really see that in a college player unless he’s so highly skilled, and he is.”
Ennis finished with 14 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Fair led the Orange with 15, and Jerami Grant had 14.
“The last few minutes of games this year, we’ve made plays,” Boeheim said. “We’ve been in seven games just like this one, that could have gone the other way.”
Boeheim singled out Reed as a player who hurt his team more than he expected.
“Reed, he was on the scouting report, but I hadn’t seen him surface much and he had an unbelievable game,” he said. “That happens. Our players adjusted and made plays when they had to.”
Larrañaga said he is proud of his team, and although it is frustrating to fall short twice against Syracuse, “what it says, basically, is they’re really good. They have all the weapons offensively and defensively to be a legitimate contender to win the national championship. They’ve got NBA guys.”
Miami does not have that luxury.
“It’s not an excuse, it’s just the way things are,” Larrañaga said. “We have a certain amount of physical talent and skill. If we could just figure out a way to get everybody to play consistently well… . Our inexperience makes us inconsistent. Quite honestly, there’s nothing we can really do about it. It’s the situation we find ourselves in.”
Lecomte had three points and one assist in 20 minutes. Donnavan Kirk scored three points and had just one rebound. Reed and Brown (13 points) were the only UM players in double figures.