Late steal deals Wolfpack a heartbreaking loss at Syracuse

jgiglio@newsobserver.comFebruary 15, 2014 

— N.C. State needed one more play against the No. 1 team in the country.

The Wolfpack had three chances in the final 40 seconds to put away top-ranked Syracuse but couldn't do it. The Orange, the ACC newcomer with nine lives, pulled out another close win, 56-55, in the final frenzied seconds on Saturday night.

C.J. Fair's layup with 6.7 seconds left gave the Orange (25-0, 12-0 ACC) its second straight win in the final seconds and sixth ACC win this season by six points or less.

The Wolfpack (16-9, 6-6) looked like it was going to leave the Carrier Dome with a marquee win for its NCAA tournament resume after Syracuse's freshman guard Tyler Ennis was called for an offensive foul with 14.9 seconds left.

The Wolfpack had a 55-54 lead after Ennis' turnover and on the inbounds play, freshman Kyle Washington hit T.J. Warren on a fullcourt pass. Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney fouled Warren on the layup, which Warren made with 13.6 seconds left. Referee Mike Stuart ruled the foul came before the shot, though, and instead of a 57-54 lead and a free throw, N.C. State got the ball under the basket and still up 55-54.

Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said Warren's basket should have counted.

"That was a made basket to put us up three with T.J. going on the line to go up four," Gottfried said. "For them to wipe that away, I've already watched the tape and I don't like that call. That changed things."

It sure did.

N.C. State wasn't in the bonus after the Cooney foul and had to run an inbounds play. Syracuse trapped the inbouds pass from Ralston Turner to Cat Barber in the corner and forward Rakeem Christmas, who finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks, stole Barber's pass attempt for Warren.

Christmas fed the ball to Ennis, who got out in transition and found Fair for the game-winning layup. Warren got one more contested shot at the buzzer but it hit off the front of the rim.

"I started to think we were about to get out of here with a win," said Turner, whose free throws with 62 seconds left gave N.C. State a 55-53 lead.

"Despite the outcome, we did a lot of good things. There's a lot of positives to be taken."

It was a game that almost didn't happen, at least not on Saturday. N.C. State had travel issues on Friday night getting out of Raleigh, and then was delayed getting into Syracuse until after 2:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

The game was moved back four hours from its original 3 p.m. start to accommodate the problems. The Wolfpack didn't look any worse for the travel wear, starting strong and trading baskets early with the Orange, who were still euphoric coming off of a last-second win at Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.

The game was tied at 26 at the half and N.C. State led for the first 10 minutes of the second half. Washington (14 points, 10 rebounds) was finding the right spots and knocking down shots in Syracuse's zone.

The teams traded baskets with Turner hitting 3, followed by a three-point play by Ennis. Another 3 from Turner, over the top of Syracuse's zone, gave N.C. State its biggest lead, 50-45 with 6:23 to play.

Ennis, the hero from the Pitt win, got a steal and layup in transition, sandwiched between four free throws by Christmas. The teams stayed within a point of each other until the frenetic final minute.

Fair, who finished with 11 points, had a chance to tie the game with 41.4 seconds left but missed one free throw. The Orange went 16 of 22 from the free-throw line, compared to 7 of 14 for N.C. State.

Washington got the rebound of Fair's miss and State had the ball but Desmond Lee dribbled the ball off his foot and gave the Orange the ball with 21.5 seconds left.

As well as N.C. State executed against the Orange's zone, it still left some points off the scoreboard. The Wolfpack went just 3 of 10 from the free-throw line in the first half.

Gottfried was encouraged by how his team played, especially Warren and Washington, but couldn't quite leave without an empty feeling.

"There's a lot of good things about today," Gottfried said. "Our young group is getting better but we didn't come up here to feel good and play well. We came here to win."

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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