CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Conte Forum was literally shaking. The cozy arena was transformed into a frat house, as “Seven Nation Army” blared from the loudspeakers and the student section erupted.
Boston College forward Ryan Anderson had just converted an and-one. He hurled his body forward and screamed, “Let’s go!” as he scurried toward the line.
The free throw swished. BC’s lead increased to six. The upset became more and more real.
But then it slowly fizzled.
No. 2 Syracuse (17-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast) survived against the Eagles (5-12, 1-3) by a score of 69-59 in front of 8,606 on Monday night, avoiding what would have been one of the biggest upsets in college basketball this season.
Trevor Cooney scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, bouncing back from a miserable 4-for-17 showing against North Carolina. Tyler Ennis finished with 12 points, five assists and a season-high six steals as SU avoided the unthinkable and remained unblemished on the season.
“We knew we had to come together,” SU forward Jerami Grant said. “I feel like our team is a team that can come back from any situation.”
That’s been true so far this season. Syracuse trailed by 18 in the first half against then-No. 8 Villanova and came back and won. Against Miami, the Orange scored fewer than 50 points and still won.
And Monday, when a loss seemed more possible than it has all season, Syracuse prevailed once again.
It was the quintessential trap game: a 9 p.m. road contest against a team that’s underachieved all season, has something to prove and thrives from downtown.
For a while, it seemed as if No. 2 would go down. BC hit 5-of-12 3s in the first half – including three from Lonnie Jackson, who tacked on three more in the second frame.
Syracuse rotated and closed out relatively well, but it didn’t matter.
“They wasn’t missing,” C.J. Fair said.
Whenever Olivier Hanlan or Joe Rahon attacked the basket, they wouldn’t look to shoot. Instead, they’d find teammates – usually Jackson – drifting into the corner.
SU head coach Jim Boeheim said Syracuse’s defense wasn’t the problem. The Orange trapped guards in the corner, as usual, but BC’s playmakers made strong, quick moves with the ball.
He pegged the offense as the issue.
“We were completely as bad offensively as we’ve been all year,” Boeheim said.
Fair was an uncharacteristic 4-of-13. Ennis was just 4-of-11. Grant started the game 2-of-7.
But when Syracuse needed to score, it did. The game was knotted at 51 with 8:11 to go, and SU needed a bucket badly. Grant snagged an offensive rebound and calmly dunked it for two.
Three possessions later, Cooney caught the ball, swerved to the left and canned a 3, extending the Orange’s lead to 60-51. The sharpshooter, who battled a cold Monday night, returned to form at an opportune time.
Now Cooney, not Anderson, was the one screaming “Let’s go!” as he backpedaled downcourt. The electric stadium was no more.
Earlier, “Let’s go Orange” and “Let’s go Eagles” chants simultaneously drowned each other out. But now the only noise came from SU fans.
“We don’t like to get in those situations,” Ennis said, “but we have a little bit of confidence knowing that we’ve been in them.”
Grant put the finishing touches on the win with an emphatic dunk that earned the No. 2 spot on SportsCenter. The Boston College fans that frolicked earlier slumped into their seats.
Syracuse passed one of its biggest tests against an unlikely opponent. The ACC isn’t nearly as strong as people expected it to be at the start of the year, but every game can provide challenges, as the Orange found out Monday.
“We’ve been tested a lot this year,” Grant said, “and definitely on the road. I feel like we pulled together and rallied, and everybody made big plays.”
Published on January 13, 2014 at 11:11 pm
Contact Trevor: email@example.com | @TrevorHass