Men's Basketball

Bailey: Fair must break out of offensive slump for Syracuse to go on championship run

Yuki Mizuma | Staff Photographer

C.J. Fair has been cold in the Orange's recent stretch, and if he doesn't pick up his offensive game it could be hard for the nation's top team to make a championship run.

C.J. Fair caught the pass from Trevor Cooney and rose up from the right corner, all alone. with Syracuse trailing North Carolina State 34-32 and 11:36 left on the clock.

He flicked his wrist as he watched the 3-pointer roll off his fingers. If good, it would give the Orange its first lead since the 4:18 mark of the first half.

But it fell short — way short. It was Fair’s second air ball of the night, and that left the 31,572 fans in the Carrier Dome speechless. You could almost hear the ball hit the floor.

“Each game you try to show that you’re one of the top guys,” Fair said. “Sometimes it ain’t always your night.”

Saturday wasn’t Fair’s night despite hitting the game-winning layup with 6.7 seconds to play. But neither was Wednesday, when SU beat No. 25 Pitt and Fair disappeared for the first 37 minutes. And neither was last Monday when Fair shot 2-of-13 and the Orange barely edged ice-cold Notre Dame.

In fact, since Fair’s 28-point outburst against Duke on Feb. 1 — after which he proclaimed himself the best player in the Atlantic Coast Conference — he’s shooting just 37.5 percent from the field, 20 percent from 3-point range and 66.7 percent from line.

If Fair can’t rediscover his offensive consistency, the Orange will have a hard time competing for a national championship.

“C.J.’s had a couple bad games,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “He’s going to have a couple. I didn’t think he had his legs. He couldn’t get his legs on his jump shots.

“He made five layups.”

Fair shot 5-of-16 against the Wolfpack, indeed missing every one of his jump shots. He threw up two air balls, missed a critical runner in the lane with 2:23 to go and split at the foul line at the 41-second mark.

He wasn’t just slow to start, like he was against the Panthers when he hit a 3-pointer and pull-up jumper on the wing in the last two minutes. He was ineffective for 40 minutes.

This is the preseason ACC Player of the Year. A senior captain. A potential All-American. The guy who every other player on this team looks to in timeouts late in games.

“Doug McDermott is probably the best scorer (in the country), but C.J.’s definitely right behind,” SU point guard Tyler Ennis said. “Versatility wise, he can score outside, inside. He’s definitely underrated.”

Fair was unsure if fatigue played a factor in his shooting woes Saturday. The Orange has played three games in the last seven days — and Fair has played 118 of 120 minutes —but he chalked up the struggles, in part, to relying on his upper body too much.

Moving forward, though, his workload won’t lighten too significantly. The potential return of senior center Baye Moussa Keita could alleviate a few minutes per game, but with an even more daunting stretch of three games in six days ahead, Boeheim can’t afford to take his best player off for that long.

The Orange hosts Boston College on Wednesday, travels to Duke for round two on Saturday and plays at Maryland on Monday.

“We need to get better on offense,” Fair said. “It starts with me. I think that if I can get things going early throughout the whole game, it will make things for my teammates a lot easier. If I can get going I think our offense will be a lot better.”

When the offense hits a rut in a win-or-go-home game, the team will turn to Fair. And if the Orange is to go on a championship run, he’ll have to be ready to answer the call.

Stephen Bailey is the sports editor at The Daily Orange where his column occasionally appears. He can be reached at sebail01@syr.edu or on Twitter at @Stephen_Bailey1.

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