Looking to extend the win streak, the Syracuse Orange hosted Wake Forest in a rematch game in which Syracuse dropped the first contest down in Winston-Salem. The Orange cruised to open up 14 point lead in the second half, only to allow Wake back into the game with a three point barrage. In the end, Syracuse would stave off the run and win by a final score of 78-70.
Wilbekin, Crawford, Wilbekin, Wilbekin, Woods. The names of Wake Forest’s scorers rang out in rapid succession late in the second half, three after three fell, five straight, and Jim Boeheim de-jacketed. A lead that felt safe all game, spun down the drain with each outside shot that splashed through the net for the Demon Deacons.
Up five, Tyus Battle and Paschal Chukwu converted a crucial pick-and-roll dunk. Chukwu stuttered inside as Batttle screamed “cut,” swung the ball to Howard, who hit Chukwu for the game-sealing dunk.
“The play of the game,” Jim Boeheim called it afterward.
Battle wasted no time unloading shots on a day that would again call for his contributions over 40 minutes. Down to five players, plus whatever a knee-hindered Bourama Sidibe and Braedon Bayer could flesh out, Battle drilled all three of his opening shots.
A floater up the middle, a staple of his pre-game warmup, a right-side layup and tight dribble on the right wing that knocked Chaundee Brown to the ground into the paint freed him for a three-pointer. Syracuse led 7-6, as 7’1” Doral Moore slammed home two monstrous dunks over Oshae Brissett and the Orange front line.
Brissett assumed the offensive workload next, pouring in two free throws and switching onto Mitchell Wilbekin in isolation. He zipped to the left baseline, driving straight into Wilbekin and losing the ball out off of him. Frank Howard walked over, coaching Brissett into the next play, and immediately set him up with a catch-and-shoot deep two near the corner.
Marek Dolezaj picked up two fouls in the first ten minutes, and Paschal Chukwu dropped a pair of offensive rebounds, which sprung Bourama Sidibe and Braedon Bayer into the game for small ball. The two offenses sped up, with misses flying. Battle, Brown traded four bricks, including a Brown missed dunk in transition that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Howard stymied the pace with a straight-line drive off Brissett’s missed three that drew two free throws.
Sidibe blocked Brown on an inside feed, setting up another pair of free throws, before Howard picked off a pass from Keyshawn Woods and chucked his own pass by Sidibe out-of-bounds in transition. A faster game did not produce much more tangible offense, for the moment.
Wake Forest’s leading scorer, Bryant Crawford (24 points), opened up his game with a jumper which Howard quickly answered near the left corner with a three. Battle followed with his own three, then out of timeout Crawford nailed an and-one two from deep on the left wing, before Syracuse set up Brissett on an alley-oop.
Chukwu caught the next toss, flying behind the defense and catching Howard’s lob to go up 28-18, with the starting lineup back in for the closing minutes of the half. Chukwu grabbed an offensive rebound through a foul, missing the attempt at the line, but his defensive board at the other end led to Brissett’s first three, firing an imaginary arrow into the crowd as he turned and ran from the left corner.
The Deacons, down 13, pressed for one last shot to end the half. Bayer entered, fouling on the floor less than one second before a Wake heave landed in the hoop. Nevertheless, Crawfrod drilled a deep three at the buzzer and ran to the locker room within 10.
Crawford broke out of the locker room the same way, nailing a shot off-balance on the right wing one minute into the second half. Battle looked to match, breaking into the paint and missing a dunk with his arm sprung back. Chukwu stood behind him, grabbed the miss, and flushed it with his own slam.
Flashing the hands he struggled with in the first, Chukwu snatched the ball from Moore after his block of Brissett’s drive. He quickly transferred to Battle, who once again floated a shot over the defense in the lane and it fell, giving him 12 points.
Chukwu helped Battle again, pressuring Moore inside on a defensive rebound that he’d drop as he fell to the floor. Chukwu stood over him, chomping on gum, asserting his presence on the interior, before Howard set up Battle with a baseline jumper for his eighth assist.
Chukwu moved his pressure to Sunday Okeke, forcing a travel as they dove for the loose ball, and another pair of points for Battle at the line on the ensuing possession.
The Deacons’ response hit quickly, a three from Woods on the left wing created by Crawford, who then stole Brissett’s in-bound and broke to the rim where he received two free throws to make it 40-32.
Battle reasserted himself, gunning down a four-point play on the right wing in front of Boeheim. Battle began to take over the game, jumping in front of Oliver Sarr’s pass and racing full-court for a one-handed slam.
Syracuse extended its lead, another second chance flurrying landed in the net for Howard by way of Dolezaj’s offensive board. Battle attacked again next play, calling Sidibe up for a pick as he charged to the rim and watched his near three-point play rim out. He stomped his feet to the sideline, hit both free throws and put the Orange up 50-36.
Then the threes fell for Wake. Five in rapid succession, a quick break on a miss, and then another from Wilbekin through a foul. He hit four over the course of seven possessions.
As Wake’s offense opened, Syracuse’s kept pushing, Battle hit a jumper to reach 28 points, then tossed Sidibe a lob to maintain an eight-point lead. But the Deacs pressed on, moving to the interior, as Crawford earned a pair of free throws, tossed another lob to Moore and scored inside off a steal to bring Wake Forest within 65-63.
Needing a stop up five, the Orange drove the shot clock down, forcing Wilbekin to toss the ball out-of-bounds on the drive. After Chukwu’s crucial dunk, he missed a free throw, combining with Howard for an 0-of-5 free throw stretch that Brissett broke.
Through 37 free throws, Syracuse only hit 67 percent. But Battle hit two and shut the door on the scare, flushing Chukwu’s closing block with a breakaway dunk to finish with 34 points and win.
Syracuse moves to 17-8 on the year and 6-6 in the conference. The Orange will now host NC State on Wednesday in an important matchup between two bubble teams. That game is set for a 9pm tip from the Carrier Dome.