Up by 12 points with just under six minutes left, No. 4 Syracuse appeared poised to secure an unusually easy victory.
Not a chance.
After letting the seemingly comfortable lead dwindle to a single point in the closing seconds, Syracuse squeezed past Maryland, 57-55, on Monday to end a two-game losing streak.
It was another close call for the Orange (26-2, 13-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), whose previous four games were decided by a total of 12 points.
“We’re in a lot of these games,” coach Jim Boeheim said. “For the most part, we’ve made good plays at the end of them, and that’s why we are where we are. We’re not overpowering too many people, I can promise you that.”
Syracuse led, 51-39, with 5:45 left, but allowed Maryland to close to 56-55 with 47 seconds remaining. After C.J. Fair missed a jumper for the Orange, Baye Moussa Keita blocked a driving layup by Nick Faust to keep Syracuse in front.
“I thought Nick got fouled, and the replay showed that,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “It’s been that type of year for us.”
Trevor Cooney was fouled and made one of two free throws with four seconds to go before Maryland’s Seth Allen’s off-balance shot bounded off the back of the rim as the buzzer sounded.
Tyler Ennis scored 20 points, and Fair had 17 to help Boeheim secure his 946th career victory. Like many of the previous ones during Syracuse’s first season in the ACC, this was not easy.
“How many we played in the league now? We’ve had one that wasn’t close,” Boeheim said. “This has been how we’ve played since the league started. We were actually ahead, which we probably weren’t used to.”
After opening the season with 25 straight wins, Syracuse dropped successive games to Boston College and Duke to lose its stature as the nation’s top-ranked team. Saturday’s game at Duke was decided by a pivotal call in the final seconds that caused Boeheim to storm the court, receive two technical fouls and an automatic ejection.
In this one, Boeheim was relatively calm on the sideline as the Orange forced 18 turnovers and limited Maryland (15-13, 7-8) to 35 percent shooting.
The coach took exception to Turgeon’s claim that Faust was fouled on his drive to the hoop.
“They shot 27 free throws. If anybody’s going to complain about the officiating, I’m going to complain,” Boeheim said. “If they didn’t turn it over 18 times, they wouldn’t have to worry about that.”
Syracuse finished the game without forward Jerami Grant, who hurt his back after making two baskets in 13 minutes.
“It was a really big win for us,” Ennis said. “We played without Jerami for the second half, which kind of hurt us, but I thought everybody that came in really stepped up.”
Including Fair, who went 8-for-17 from the field, and grabbed nine rebounds.
“This is definitely a big win. It might’ve been the biggest win of the season, so far,” Fair said. “That game to break your losing streak is always like the hardest. Because you’re so anxious and you want that game so bad that sometimes it can go bad for you.”
Allen scored 22 points for the Terps.