The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball wouldn’t allow a let down on Senior Day as the team ended a four-game losing skid to beat the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 72-63 inside the JMA Wireless Dome.
With the jersey retirements of Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick, as well as having Carmelo Anthony and other members of the 2003 National Championship team in the house, the Orange handled business on Senior Day behind the play of Jesse Edwards, who finished with 27 points, 20 rebounds, five steals and two blocks.
During the pregame Senior Day ceremony, John Bol Ajak, Symir Torrence, Edwards and Joe Girard were announced in front of the crowd in that order. Players came out with their families and posed for photos with Jim Boeheim. Boeheim greeted his players with handshakes. Girard greeted Boeheim with a hug.
After not playing in the last two games, Chris Bell was reinserted into the starting lineup opposite Benny Williams. Both teams came out sluggish on the offensive end to start, but the Syracuse seniors did the scoring early, giving Syracuse a 6-4 lead at the first media timeout. With neither team able to take control of the game, Boeheim went with Maliq Brown as the first substitution off the bench, followed by Quadir Copeland.
Syracuse would go on a 14-1 run from that point, beginning with a Girard jumper. Just prior to the second media timeout, Judah Mintz had a double crossover series with a nifty lay that got the crowd off its feet to tie the game at 13. Then Edwards stood in for a dunk after a Brown offensive rebound. In the midst of the Syracuse run, a technical was assessed to Wake Forest, to which Girard predictably made a pair of free throws to make it 19-14.
Following Girard’s free throws, a laser pass from mid-court by Mintz to Brown that ended with a dunk prompted a Steve Forbes timeout with 8:52 to play in the first. That wouldn’t stop the bleeding, however. Out of the timeout Edwards scored down low and after a Mintz steal on the ensuing possession, Brown ran the floor and Mintz found him for an easy one to make it 25-14. Only a desperation heave by Tyree Appleby at the end of the shotclock that banked in would stop the run.
The banked in three provided some momentum for Wake as Appleby made another shot from range and then assisted Daivien Williamson for a another triple to edge closer. Mintz had a crafty three point play after Wake’s two threes to make it 32-26, but Appleby found the range once more to make it 32-29. Syracuse responded with a 7-0 run to end the half behind Mintz and took a 39-29 at the intermission.
The play of the big three fueled Syracuse as Girard, Mintz and Edwards all had double-figures by the half. Edwards most notably had 11 points, nine rebounds, five steals and two blocks at the break.
Just prior to the second half, Mintz was whistled for a technical foul and Appleby made two free throws before play resumed. Then Williamson hit a three to cut Syracuse’s lead to five. Torrence made an early substitution for Mintz, who made a few erratic plays. But Syracuse was able to settle things on a Girard pull up two. Bell then made his first and only three of the game and Mintz quickly went back in for Torrence.
The big man from the Netherlands would take over the game from there.
On a middle ball screen, Girard found Edwards on the roll and he finished and was fouled on the play. That marked the beginning of the center’s takeover. Edwards scored ten unanswered points midway through the second half—fouling out Andrew Carr in the process—to give Syracuse a 60-44 lead and ultimately put this game too far out of reach for the Demon Deacons. Without the bodies to match up with Edwards, Forbes didn’t have an answer down low.
Wake Forest tried to claw back into the game behind its seniors. Appleby made another three, but Girard responded with a baseline jumper. But Appleby and Williamson connected on another pair of threes to cut Syracuse’s lead to 11 with five minutes to go. An Edwards tip in pushed the lead back to 13.
Down the stretch Wake would get the game to as close as seven with 45 seconds remaining, but never felt like it seriously threatened an Orange team in control. With a 72-63 lead and Syracuse dribbling out the ball, Syracuse fans rose to their feet and gave this struggling team a standing ovation on Senior Day.
Syracuse sets its sights on Greensboro for the ACC Tournament. The Orange will open in the Second Round of the tournament as the eight seed, squaring off against Wake Forest once again. That game tips at noon this Wednesday and will air on ESPN/ESPN2.