Buffalo, N.Y. – The momentum had turned back to their favor. Syracuse was about to do it again. Pull out a game they had no business winning with some last minute heroics. Syracuse, trailing by one, trapped Jordan Sibert in the corner on the in-bounds and forced him to step out of bounds.
The crowd was in a frenzy. Syracuse could win the game with a basket.
Then Tyler Ennis' pull-up free-throw line jumper missed.
"With 13 seconds to go, we wanted to get it to Tyler and drive the ball," head coach Jim Boeheim said. "We'd just drive the ball for three baskets and I don't know why he settled for the jump shot. There was plenty of time. He had space. I'm not sure why."
But the Orange, amazingly, weren't done yet. Dyshawn Pierre missed his second free-throw after hitting his first, leaving the door open with only a two point deficit. Ennis again had the ball in his hands with the chance to play hero, as he had done so many times throughout his freshman campaign.
Ennis pulled up from three to try to send Syracuse to the Sweet-16. The ball looked on target as it hung in the air. As it rotated, it descended towards the basket, and clanged off the back rim. As the ball fell to the First Niagara Center floor, the Dayton Flyers bench erupted in jubilation, and the Syracuse season ended unceremoniously in a 55-53 defeat.
"The last shot was a great shot," Boeheim said. "That was the right play, a chance to win the game. You don't have enough time to get to the basket."
"This isn't the way I wanted to go out," Fair said. "I wanted to get my team back to the Final Four and compete for a championship. We came up short but I don't regret anything from the past four years."
But they could not overcome their offensive struggles this time. Syracuse shot 39% from the floor in the game, including just 30% in the first half. Fair hit just four of his 14 attempts. Ennis just seven of his 21.
Cooney, after a strong performance on Thursday, hit just one of his six shots, including 0-4 from beyond the arc. Syracuse as a team failed to make a single trifecta, finishing 0-10 from distance.
Syracuse appeared to gain momentum mid-way through the final frame, taking a three point lead on a 10-2 run capped by an Ennis layup with 7:34 left. The Orange forced a turnover on the subsequent Dayton possession, but Ennis took a three-pointer that could have pushed Syracuse to a lead that the Flyers could not overcome.
Instead, in what was a microcosm of the game, Ennis' shot missed and Dayton scored four points on their next possession after an offensive rebound off of a missed free-throw.
Dayton got hot in the second half from beyond the arc, making six of their 11 shots. Their proficiency from three-point range, and Syracuse's lack thereof, proved to be the difference.
"The only thing we could make was a layup, and it's not easy to get layups against a good defensive team and we did," Boeheim said. "We broke through. C.J. got to the basket for two or three, and then the next possession, we settled for a jump shot.
"If you're shooting the ball, it's okay. But after 30 minutes, if you figured out you're not making jump shots, I think we needed to keep driving the ball, even though it's hard to do."
And so ends Syracuse's season. One that started so promising at 25-0, and ended so bitterly with 6 losses in their last nine games including an early exit from the NCAA Tournament.
Now the focus shifts to Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis. Will they come back? If they do, Syracuse will be one of the favorites to win it all. If they don't, the Orange will have a lot of production to replace in their second season in the ACC.