SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Miami coach Jim Larranaga loves stats, and one stood out above all the rest as he prepared his Hurricanes for No. 2 Syracuse.
"Syracuse (is) the No. 2 most-efficient team in the country in points per possession," Larranaga said. "If you’re that good offensively, you’re going to score at that high of a rate, the one thing you don’t want to do is give them a lot of opportunities to score."
The Hurricanes didn’t, following the game plan to near perfection on Saturday before falling at the end, losing a slow-paced 49-44 nail-biter to Syracuse in the Orange’s Atlantic Coast Conference debut, a game that featured just three fast-break points and was there for the taking.
Syracuse (14-0, 1-0) shot just 36.2 percent (17 of 47) and was 3 of 15 from beyond the arc as Trevor Cooney had his worst game of the season.
"The tempo was what we wanted," Larranaga said. "We needed to keep them on defense. Time of possession was very important, almost like a football game. Defensively, we wanted to keep them on the perimeter, and that’s the one disappointing part for us. Overall, we had a good defensive game plan and executed it pretty well, but at the end they got some interior baskets and that really hurt us."
James Kelly and Manu Lecomte both finished with eight points for Miami (8-6, 0-2), which finished 7 of 19 from 3-point range but did not produce one scorer in double figures. Garrius Adams led the Hurricanes with nine points.
C.J. Fair scored 15 points, including the go-ahead basket, to pace the Orange. Cooney, who entered the game shooting 50 percent from long range (43 of 86), tops in the ACC, finished 2 of 12, all from beyond the arc.
A long jumper from the right corner by Rion Brown gave Miami a 35-29 lead with 12:22 remaining and the Hurricanes were executing Larranaga’s game plan nicely, taking time off the clock and preventing the Orange from scoring inside.
"They had a real solid matchup zone and we couldn’t really get anything going," Fair said. "They got good shots working the shot clock down and made us work on defense. It’s tough playing defense that long."
Still, Syracuse managed to slowly chip away at the lead. Fair’s 3 from the right corner at 11:08 was the Orange’s first basket of the second half and narrowed the deficit to 35-32. After two free throws by Davon Reed gave Miami a 40-35 lead, Rakeem Christmas scored twice inside –on a putback and lefty hook in the lane — to start a decisive 10-4 Orange run.
"When we got down, we just wanted to go back out there and be stronger, make big plays," Christmas said. "It got our team going and we turned up our defense from there. We just came together as a team."
Jerami Grant hit a jumper from the free throw line, Fair converted a spinning layup in the lane and Tyler Ennis hit a driving layup to give Syracuse a 43-40 lead with 3:19 left.
Miami pulled within 43-42 on a reverse layup by Kelly with 2:15 left, but Ennis scored again inside, and Cooney and Ennis both hit two free throws in the final minute as the Orange prevailed.
"We got a little spread out in the zone," Brown said. "We were so worried about the shooters they got in the lane a couple of times and got some easy layups. We deviated from the game plan just a couple of plays and it showed."
Syracuse entered the game as one of seven unbeaten teams remaining in Division I and struggled against the reigning conference champion. The Hurricanes are the only team in the conference with no returning starters, and they lost their ACC opener 61-60 in overtime to Virginia Tech in early December.
On this day, Miami gave the Orange a game until the end. The Hurricanes just couldn’t finish.
"Everybody is disappointed, but you have to look at the positives," Adams said. "Coming down to the wire playing the No. 2 team is something positive that you can take out of it. We did a lot of good things."
Miami, which trailed by four points at halftime, started the second half with a 14-4 run as the Orange missed their first nine shots. Adams and Lecomte hit 3-pointers and Brown hit a jumper from deep in the right corner to key the surge.
The Hurricanes didn’t look like the team that went 0 for 15 from 3-point range in opening the season with an overtime loss to St. Francis Brooklyn, a program that hasn’t finished over .500 since 2003-04.
Facing the vaunted Syracuse zone, the Hurricanes were up for the task, hitting 5 of 11 3-point attempts in the first half. Adams and Lecomte hit from long range on successive possessions late in the period and Miami trailed just 25-21 at halftime.
"Just being consistent, being able to knock down shots, I think once we do that we’re going to be a really good team," Brown said. "But there’s so many shots out there we could have made or feel like we should have made."