WASHINGTON — A year ago, C.J. Fair and top-seeded Syracuse left Boston's TD Garden unfulfilled after losing to No. 2 seed Ohio State in the NCAA tournament's East Regional final. Fair had done little to help, taking just two shots and scoring eight points in a seven-point loss to the Buckeyes.
Fair and his Syracuse teammates had a much different feeling leaving Verizon Center on Saturday night. Not only did the fourth-seeded Orange advance to its first Final Four in a decade with a 55-39 win over third-seeded Marquette, but the former City standout played a big part in the victory.
The 6-8, 215-pound junior forward finished with 13 points — second on his team to James Southerland's 16 points — to go along with six rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. He also came away with a few pieces of nylon from the nets the Orange cut down.
"It's something I've never experienced before," Fair said. "Just going up there, cutting the nets down, knowing we won the East region, it means we're the best team coming out of the East, it feels good."
Fair said the foundation of what transpired here began when Syracuse returned from a 22-point defeat on the same court to Georgetown three weeks ago, a game in which the Orange scored 39 points.
What happened at the team's next practice might have turned around the season for Syracuse (30-9).
"The players took the initiative to have our own practice, to get our minds right. The season could be over if we don't pick it up," Fair said. "I think once we did that and we started the Big East tournament, we played great. Since then, we've been clicking. Everyone took ownership, how they could be better, how they could help the team."
Fair has certainly done his share. After finishing with nine points on 3-of-10 shooting in that loss to the Hoyas, Fair scored in double figures in seven of eight games. He has averaged a shade under 14 points and more than six rebounds per game in that stretch.
Saturday, Syracuse had watched what had been an 11-point lead midway through the first half cut to six at halftime and to five, 28-23, early in the second half. Then Fair hit two straight short jumpers, made a steal that led to a layup for Southerland and finished off a 19-9 run with a tip-in.
Marquette (26-9) never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
"We all know how it feels to come one game short of the Final Four, that's something we didn't want to experience again," Fair said. "I think that gave us a little bit of an edge over Marquette, and [their players] had never been to the Elite Eight. I think we wanted it more."Copyright © 2015, CT Now