SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Duke was crashing the offensive boards and hitting outside shots inside the Carrier Dome on Saturday. If Syracuse was going to pull out a victory, they would need someone to step up. The Orange got more than just that as their entire frontcourt came to the rescue.
Senior forward C.J. Fair was the best player on the floor for long stretches of Saturday's 91-89 overtime win. Fair finished 12-20 from the floor with 28 points, five rebounds and two blocks. He carried the Orange in the second half, scoring 10 of their 12 points over one stretch.
Fair had every part of his game working. He drove and finished with ease. He hit his patented mid-range jumper. Fair even drilled a three-pointer. It was a fantastic display from a player matching up with the most hyped player in the country at his position. Round one goes to Fair in that battle.
Jerami Grant had a strong game in his own right. He finished with 24 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. He finished 10-10 from the foul line and 7-11 from the field. Grant hit the jumper he has been developing in recent weeks, attacked the rim off the bounce, and freed himself for willing passers.
In overtime, Duke was without their two best inside players in Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson. Grant worked against the smaller Andre Dawkins and used his big frame to gain inside position. Ennis found him over and over, leading to three easy dunks. Grant was strong on the boards as well, battling inside against a physical Duke team.
Not to be outdone was junior center Rakeem Christmas. His game has really developed throughout this season, as he has taken giant leaps forward. Christmas was a stat stuffer in this one with seven points, 10 rebounds, six blocks, two steals and two assists.
Christmas is now a legitimate offensive threat. He is shooting nearly 70% from the foul line this season, and hit two critical ones down the stretch. He is developing more chemistry with his fellow frontcourt players and is starting to pass the ball better.
More impressively is Christmas' willingness to engage in physical play inside, something he lacked over his first two seasons. Christmas was aggressive against Duke, and that showed in his defensive prowess. He patrols the lane very well for the Orange, and uses underrated lateral quickness to rotate in the zone.
In a game that went back and forth throughout, Syracuse got a big lift inside. If the Orange get this type of production along with the play of Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney, it will take something special to ruin their flawless record.