Before the Syracuse Orange men's basketball team faced off against the Villanova Wildcats, Syracuse University released this statement: "Due to an eligibility matter, Senior James Southerland will not participate in competition until further notice. Given University policy and federal student privacy laws, we are unable to provide any further details at this time."
That news left junior forward C.J. Fair as the most-experienced forward on the Orange squad.
Fair responded by going 7-for-12 from the field and 7-for-8 from the free throw line to top all Syracuse players and all players overall with 22 points.
Down at the break, Fair spoke on how important it was for him to come out as a leader for the Orange in the second half. "It's very important 'cause when you got James [Southerland] not playing and [Brandon] Triche, he got in foul trouble, so I'm the next guy up. And I gotta be ready to produce, even if they is there."
Outside of senior guard Brandon Triche's two made free throws, Fair was the only member of the Orange to score within the first six minutes of the second half versus Villanova. He connected on a layup, three-pointer, back-to-back jumpers, and two free throws within that time, for half of his 22 points.
"I got a rhythm going and coach [Jim Boeheim] and Mike [Carter-Williams] wanted to give me the ball. So, once they gave me the ball, I was just able to make plays, expressed Fair."
When the senior leadership of Triche and Southerland are not on the floor, Fair understands how vital it is for him to step up into a leadership role. "I mean it's very important 'cause the team looks at me as a key part of this team, so when those guys are not in, I gotta be the guy to be vocal, keep the team together, shared Fair."
Thinking of what he has learned from Southerland, Fair remarked, "He always looked for his shot. Even if he miss two or three in a row, he [is] gonna think he's gonna make that fourth shot. And that's something I was trying to be, aggressive. If I miss a couple, just keep with it."
One area where Fair has shown a lot of tenacity as of late has been in the transition offense, where he excelled to the rim in the game prior to Villanvoa, versus Providence. "I like to get out on the fast-break, so if I do get there, I like to finish," said Fair.
When not is not involved a lot in transtion, such as in the game against the Wildcats, Fair goes to where he knows he can be most effective. "Half-court situations, I just like to get in my comfortable spots, in the mid-range area sometimes on the three-point area, and just make myself available," shared Fair.
Looking ahead, Syracuse's next match comes against the Louisville Cardinals, one of the nation's highest-ranked teams, on the road. When asked how much he believes in his team, with or without the return of Southerland, Fair stated, "I'm very confident with these guys. Other players just gotta step up, like they did [versus Villanova]. With your whole team contributing like that, it's hard to beat us."
All eight players who got on the floor for Syracuse against Villanova scored, including Fair's fellow forward, freshman Jerami Grant, who stepped up to score a new single-game high with 13 points, while tying for the most rebounds with Fair, grabbing five.
The Orange travel to Kentucky for their match with the Cardinals on Saturday, January 19th, at 4pm ET.