Nate Shron | Staff PhotographerMen's Basketball
Fair shines, Franklin struggles in Battle on the Midway win
ABOARD USS MIDWAY, SAN DIEGO, Calif. — In a game that was ultimately decided by antithetical beginnings, the contrasting performances from each team’s star shed light on the bigger picture. While one struggled, the other surged. One was splendid, and the other self-destructed.
Behind a torrid start from C.J. Fair, and an inversely horrific one from San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin, Syracuse raced to a 13-point advantage less than 10 minutes into the game. The lead was never relinquished, Franklin never recovered and Fair compiled arguably the best game of his career with 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead Syracuse to a 62-49 victory in the Battle on the Midway in San Diego Harbor.
“I felt really confident coming into the game,” Fair said. “And I saw that I was feeling it early, so I just tried to see how far it could go.”
Fair guided the Orange to a 17-4 lead by the 11:51 mark of the first half, as he poured in seven of his team’s first nine points. He took full advantage of the calm breezes that fluttered lightly across the flight deck of the USS Midway in the first half by burying a pair of jumpers in the opening minutes.
His midrange jump shot from the left baseline broke a 2-2 tie, and San Diego State never knotted the game or took the lead from that point on. Three possessions later, Fair drilled his team’s only 3-pointer of the game on the left wing.
“The first couple shots I had available were jumpers,” Fair said. “I took them and I made them. But you could see as far as the conditions out here that a lot of shots were getting altered by the wind. We didn’t want to just settle on jumpers instead of getting to the basket.”
Where Fair refused to settle for jumpers following his first two makes, Franklin, the reigning Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, grew content. He missed all six of his 3-point attempts on Sunday, four of which came in the second half when the winds picked up significantly.
Franklin’s afternoon began inauspiciously, and he turned the ball over three times in the first 2:10 of the game. By the time he managed to enter the scoring column, there were less than five minutes remaining in the half and his team trailed by double digits. He scored just two points in the first half on 1-for-3 shooting and missed all four of his free-throw attempts. His turnover total stood at six.
His counterpart, Fair, finished the half with 11 points and six rebounds.
“I’ve played against a lot of good teams, but they’re definitely up there in the top five of the best defensive teams we played,” Franklin said.
It was a statement personified by Baye Moussa Keita’s chase-down block with 11:22 remaining in the second half. Franklin emerged ahead of the pack on a fast break for what appeared to be an easy right-handed dunk. But Keita raced down the court to block the ball at the rim with his right hand.
A foul was called, and Franklin hit both free throws, but it showed he would get no easy baskets against the Orange — fast break or otherwise. Franklin finished the game with 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting and committed seven turnovers while missing seven free throws.
“They are really big, and it was frustrating that we couldn’t score,” Franklin said. “When you have someone real big in front of you, it makes it a lot more frustrating.”
Meanwhile, Franklin was tasked with guarding Fair for much of the game. And though he said his goal was to keep Fair out of the paint, he failed in that regard. Twelve of Fair’s 17 points were scored in the lane, including a crucial tip in off a miss by Michael Carter-Williams midway through the second half that ended a quick 4-0 run by the Aztecs that saw them pull within 12.
Franklin allowed Fair to pull in just two offensive rebounds, but they both resulted in points for the Orange.
“I thought when we made a couple of runs and had a little bit of momentum going, we said, ‘One more stop, one more stop,’” San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher said. “Either we couldn’t make a stop, or when we did and had an opportunity, we weren’t able to capitalize on it there.”
By that time, though, the winds had picked up and the hole was too deep to climb out of. Fair’s initial outburst seized control for Syracuse early, and when coupled with Franklin’s dreadful performance, it sealed a victory for the Orange.
“It was important to get that lead,” Fair said. “You couldn’t really shoot 3s, so we were basically trading baskets. And that kind of hurt them because they couldn’t really get over the hump.”
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