SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) – The ball felt great coming out of the hands of North Carolina State guard Sam Hunt, and now the Syracuse Orange has its hands full trying to make the NCAA tournament.
Markell Johnson’s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 33 seconds to go broke a 70-70 tie and North Carolina State (17-9, 7-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) went on to defeat Syracuse (17-9, 6-7) 74-70 Wednesday, but it was Hunt’s four 3-pointers in the second half that put the Wolfpack in position to pull off a huge road win and build its NCAA tournament resume in a game that was huge for both teams who reside squarely on the NCAA bubble.
Allerik Freeman led the Wolfpack with 17 points and Johnson had 16. The Wolfpack, who broke a two-game losing streak, had seven 3s in the final 20 minutes on just 13 attempts.
Syracuse was led by Oshae Brissett, who had a game-high 25 points, including 18 in the second half. Tyus Battle had 17 on just 5-of-14 shooting, including 0-of-4 from 3, and Frank Howard had 16.
NC State took a 41-39 lead on a jumper by Freeman with 16:52 to go, but Syracuse went on an 8-0 run to take a 47-41 lead with 13:29 remaining. The Wolfpack responded with five straight and then closed to 49-48 on a short jumper by Torin Dorn. Syracuse scored the next five to extend to a 54-48 lead but the Wolfpack answered again with eight straight points. Hunt’s first 3 brought the Wolfpack within three, Torin Dorn’s jumper made it 54-53 and Freeman’s 3-point play with 8:23 remaining gave the Wolfpack a 56-54 lead.
Syracuse tied the game at 56 on a floater by Howard but 3-pointers by Hunt and Freeman gave the Wolfpack a 62-58 margin with 6:09 to go. NC State extended its margin to 70-62 on a Freeman layup and two more 3-pointers by Hunt. The Orange scored the next eight in a span of 1:47 to tie the game at 70 on two 3s by Brissett and a left-handed layup by Battle. Brissett’s 3 tied the game with 1:02 to go.
“My teammates were able to find me,” Hunt said. “They penetrated the gaps and found open spots for me in the zone and luckily I was able to make some shots. It felt good. It felt good coming out of my hands.”
“I thought this was a gutsy win for our team,” North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts said. “Anytime you can get a road win in the ACC it’s huge. I thought we did a great job in the second half finding some gaps in the zone and we made some plays. Sam Hunt came off the bench and made some huge shots.”
For Syracuse, it was another lost opportunity, and another game where SU defenders lost track of a hot 3-point shooter.
“The game was decided because we didn’t get to the 3-point shooters three times in the last five or six possessions,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We gave them really good looks from the 3 and they’re a good shooting team and they made them. In the first half I thought we did a much better job covering the 3-point line. In the second half, we didn’t and that was the difference in the game.” The Wolfpack was just 3-of-10 from beyond the arc in the first half.
The first half was a foul-plagued, turnover-filled affair. The teams combined for 20 fouls and 20 turnovers, with Syracuse scoring 16 points off Wolfpack miscues and 32 in the game. The Orange had a 26-20 lead with just over seven minutes to go when NC State went on a 10-0 run to take a 30-26 lead. Freeman hit a layup with seconds to go in the half, giving the Wolfpack a 35-32 lead at the break.
With a matchup against bottom-feeder Wake Forest on Saturday, North Carolina State can build on its resume.
Syracuse’s loss puts the Orange squarely behind the eight-ball with consecutive games against Miami and North Carolina.
North Carolina State visits Wake Forest Saturday.
Syracuse hits the road for a Saturday afternoon matchup against Miami.