POSTED: 5:17 p.m. HST, Nov 25, 2013
LAHAINA >> The Maui Invitational is built on celebrating upsets. No. 8 Syracuse avoided one against Minnesota on Monday with a gritty early-season finish.
A frenzied sequence that included three blocks and a missed dunk ended with less than two minutes left when C.J. Fair calmly hit a pull-up jumper, giving the Orange a four-point lead. That led to a 75-67 win and an inside track to the early-season tournament's title as the favorite among eight teams playing in Hawaii.
Fair scored 16 points and had 10 rebounds Syracuse held off Minnesota. The reward: A game against California on Tuesday, then either No. 11 Gonzaga or No. 18 Baylor on Wednesday if both teams win later Monday.
"The danger is when you get pressed for 40 minutes, it's difficult to bounce back," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "We'll be ready. We'll bounce back."
The Orange (5-0) pushed through a late run by the Golden Gophers, who pulled within 67-65 with little more than two minutes left.But Minnesota (5-1) committed four turnovers in the final two minutes, scoring only once more when Austin Hollins hit a meaningless layup in the game's final moments.
Trevor Cooney scores 15 points all on 3-pointers, while Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant scored 12 points each.
"It was a good test. Going forward we can still keep getting better." Fair said.
Malik Smith had 16 points for Minnesota. Andre Hollins had 14 points while Austin Hollins had 11 points. Elliott Eliason led the Golden Gophers with nine rebounds.
Syracuse -- which moved up one spot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll earlier in the day -- led by only three points at halftime. But the Orange started the second half with a 13-2 run mostly led by Fair, who hit two jumpers, two free throws and a tip-in as Syracuse tallied 10 straight points.
Minnesota stopped short of fully coming back from the 14-point hole, though it cut the lead to 5 points in less than four minutes and got even closer on two free throws each from Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins.
"When you are building a program and you are at the early, early stages you want to show that you can compete on every single possession. Our guys did that tonight," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.
The game was filled with big runs by both teams. Syracuse had two 7-0 runs and a 5-0 run in the first half, while Minnesota had a 12-0 run and a 7-0 run to take the lead 34-33 with just over two minutes remaining before halftime.
Syracuse will play California in the winner's bracket of the Maui tournament, while Minnesota will play Arkansas in the consolation bracket. The tournament began Monday with eight teams, including No. 11 Gonzaga and No. 18 Baylor.