There were moments in the second half where the nightmarish flashbacks began. Florida State had closed the deficit to just one point, but unlike recent late-game collapses, Syracuse surged ahead in the final minutes to put away the Seminoles 74-58. It didn’t take James Naismith to figure out why the Orange looked different on Sunday: Jerami Grant.
The sophomore had been hobbled with back spasms, and many thought he might just get shut down until the NCAA tourney. Instead he suited up against FSU and clearly made a difference. He had 16 points and 8 rebounds, and gave the Syracuse offense some much-needed life.
No, one player doesn’t make the entire difference. But with Trevor Cooney still ice cold (he shot just 3-13 from the field Sunday), Syracuse needs a third scoring option behind Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair. Who knows if Cooney will ever find his stroke consistently again this season (although it does feel like there’s going to be a March game where he has a big day). So Grant’s back becomes the most scrutinized body part on the Hill since Fab Melo’s brain.
Give it up for Fair. He knew what losing this game would mean to Syracuse’s seeding and reeling confidence heading into the ACC tourney. Fair played all 40 minutes and netted 22 points. He made a number of big plays in the second half to create separation between the Orange and Noles.
It was important to not only stop the skid, but also do so in comfortable fashion heading down to Greensboro. A number-one seed is still well within grasp. Winning the ACC tourney would probably get the Orange that fourth #1, and maybe just an appearance in the championship game would be enough as so many other schools in the hunt keep getting picked off. Most importantly, a decent showing in Greensboro would presumedly get Syracuse at least a two-seed, which should mean Buffalo and MSG as a road to the Final Four. That’s far bigger than just getting the 1-seed.
The Orange needed a feel good day. Grant and Fair helped get them one.