SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Jim Boeheim has been on a run of success over the past six years unparalleled in his long tenure at his alma mater, and he has a stellar recruiting class coming next fall.
The old coach is more worried about getting through his 39th season at Syracuse.
Rakeem Christmas hit a hook in the lane with 2.2 seconds left and struggling Syracuse held off Louisiana Tech 71-69 on Sunday to snap a two-game losing streak.
The Orange (6-3) twice built 10-point leads in the second half, and both times the Bulldogs stormed back, transforming the game into a nail-biter.
Beaten again and again by lobs over its vaunted zone defense, Syracuse also committed 17 turnovers against the pressing Bulldogs, eight by freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph, in scratching out the win.
Syracuse was coming off losses at then-No. 17 Michigan and home against St. John’s, which stopped the Orange’s home nonconference winning streak at 55.
”We have to get better in the fundamental things, and then maybe we can get to the next step,” said a frustrated Boeheim, whose Orange averaged nearly 30 wins over the past six seasons. ”It’s not that this team can’t make plays. They can. They’re just not good.
”They haven’t learned the things they have to learn at this stage. If they don’t learn, we won’t win. This isn’t the last six years.”
After freshman forward Chris McCullough hit two free throws to give the Orange a 61-51 lead with 6:06 left, Alex Hamilton scored nine straight points – his layup with 26 seconds left completed a 14-4 run and tied the score at 69.
Hamilton, who finished with 20 points, went on his tear after a follow slam by Michale Kyser with 3:03 left. Aiding the surge were turnovers by Joseph and Tyler Roberson and a foul by Roberson on a 3-point attempt by Raheem Appleby, who calmly sank all three foul shots.
Joseph held for a final shot for Syracuse, but his drive was thwarted at the rim by Kyser and the ball slid out of bounds off the Bulldogs with 4.7 seconds left.
Trevor Cooney then inbounded to Christmas, and his soft hook gave him 13 points and the Orange the decisive basket.
”That was a big play for me in that situation,” said Christmas, who sat out much of the first half with foul trouble. ”He (Boeheim) was upset that we were up by 10 and let them come back.”
If only the Bulldogs (7-3) could have snared a few more rebounds, the outcome might have been different. Syracuse outrebounded Louisiana Tech 40-30 overall and 20-11 on the offensive end.
”I think that’s what hurt us the most,” said Appleby, who also scored 20 on 7-for-12 shooting. ”The second half they attacked it (the offensive glass) harder. It came back to bite us.”
Appleby was short with a long 3-point attempt at the buzzer and the Bulldogs were left to wonder what might have been.
”We have a resilient group, a group of tough-nosed kids that fight,” Tech coach Michael White said. ”I was proud of their effort, overcoming an incredible atmosphere. They just continued to fight to give themselves a chance to be part of it at the end.”
Cooney hit 4 of 8 from beyond the arc in scoring a season-high 25 points. Roberson added 14 points and 17 rebounds, both career highs, while McCullough finished with only five points in 26 minutes before fouling out, the first time this season he’s failed to score in double figures.
”The story of the game relative to our pressure was how incredible Cooney was with his decisions,” White said. ”We made him a driver on a lot of occasions, and he made us pay.”
Syracuse: The Orange, who entered the game shooting 21.1 percent on 3-pointers, were 3 for 6 in the first half and 5 for 12 in the game. Syracuse has only lost four nonconference games once since Boeheim became head coach in 1976. The 1981-82 team lost four and finished 16-13. Syracuse entered the game without a national poll vote for the first time since the end of the 2007-08 season. That also was the last time the Orange played in the postseason in the NIT.
Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs missed their first six shots from behind the arc.
Cooney was 8 for 18 from the floor for Syracuse, hit all five of his free throws, and had three steals and two assists with zero turnovers in 40 minutes.
Kenneth Smith had nine assists for the Bulldogs and they finished with eight blocked shots – four by Kyser.
Syracuse is at No. 7 Villanova on Saturday.
Louisiana Tech hosts Nicholls State on Thursday.