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February 15, 2014

NC State trying to shock No. 1-ranked Syracuse

Tyler Ennis hit a long buzzer-beater to keep Syracuse unbeaten and unanimously ranked No. 1 in the nation.

After a stunning win at Pittsburgh, the team now has a good shot to extend its run with two favorable home matchups. The Orange, who face a tough road test at Duke next weekend, try to continue their best start at 7 p.m. Saturday against NC State.

Syracuse (24-0, 11-0) is making its first season in the ACC memorable after Ennis delivered an iconic moment with the team looking to become the first to go undefeated since Indiana in 1975-76.

The freshman guard took an inbound pass with 4.4 seconds left, dribbled up the court and buried a 35-footer for a 58-56 victory over the No. 25 Panthers on Wednesday. The improbable shot came after Syracuse erased a nine-point deficit in the second half.

Ennis' heroics may have earned him a call from Vice President Joe Biden, who received his law degree from Syracuse, but the team isn't focused on closing without a blemish.

"At the beginning of the season, who knew?" guard Trevor Cooney said. "But an undefeated season can't be in your mind. It's pretty cool, but it can't be in your mind."

Next Saturday's game at No. 8 Duke kicks off a three-game trip that remains a major roadblock for the Orange, who edged the Blue Devils 91-89 in overtime at home Feb. 1.

Before that rematch, however, Syracuse hosts the Wolfpack (16-8, 6-5) and Boston College, which is 1-9 on the road. The Orange are outscoring opponents by an average of 18.1 points during a 54-2 stretch at home. Despite going 15-0 at the Carrier Dome this season, they're not taking any opponent lightly.

"You know you're going to get everyone else's best game. We're going to get challenged day-in and day-out," said forward C.J. Fair, who had a team-leading 14 points Wednesday. "It's not going to be an easy game for us any day."

Syracuse hasn't been making things easy for its opponents, either.

The team gives up an average 58.3 points, ranking seventh in the nation and second in the ACC to No. 17 Virginia (55.5). That strong defensive play has been evident over the past seven games as the Orange have yielded just 38.3 percent shooting while matching their season mark by hitting 45.8.

Syracuse has won four of five all-time meetings with NC State, taking the most recent matchup 88-72 on the road Dec. 17, 2011.

The Wolfpack are trying to carry their strong shooting at home into a three-game road swing after an 82-67 win over visiting Wake Forest on Tuesday in which they shot 52.5 percent from the field — including 8 of 18 from long range.

NC State averages 74.8 points on 48.4 percent shooting at home compared to 65.3 and 40.9 percent while splitting eight road games.

Another strong performance from T.J. Warren will be key for the Wolfpack. The sophomore forward's average of 23.1 points ranks him eighth in the nation, and he leads the team with 7.4 rebounds. He's been even better over the past four games, averaging 28.0 points on 58.4 percent shooting. He's gone 9 for 17 from beyond the arc in that span.

Warren's latest performance was his best yet. He poured in a career-high 34 points while pulling down 10 boards against the Demon Deacons.

The Wolfpack won their most recent meeting with a top-ranked opponent, beating Duke 84-76 on Jan. 12, 2013. However, the team has dropped eight in a row against Top 25 teams, including a 65-59 loss in its most recent visit to Syracuse on Dec. 4, 2010.

Syracuse preview

NC State 2013-14 roster

NC State schedule/results

NC State season stats

Syracuse roster

Syracuse schedule/results

Syracuse season stats

Game facts

NC State (16-8, 6-5 ACC) at No. 1 Syracuse (24-0, 11-0 ACC)

Game time: Saturday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m. — Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.

Television: ACC Network

Probable starters

NC State
PG — 12 Tyler Lewis (5-11, 170, Soph., 4.1 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 3.1 apg)
SG — 22 Ralston Turner (6-5, 205, R-Jr., 10.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 0.8 apg)
SF — 24 T.J. Warren (6-8, 215, Soph., 23.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 0.9 apg, 1.6 spg)
PF — 32 Kyle Washington (6-9, 225, Fr., 4.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.5 apg)
C — 14 Jordan Vandenberg (7-1, 245, 5th-Sr., 5.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 0.7 apg, 1.6 bpg)

PG — 11 Tyler Ennis (6-2, 180, Fr., 11.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.6 apg, 2.1 spg)
SG — 10 Trevor Cooney (6-4, 195, R-Soph., 13.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.4 apg, 2.1 spg)
SF — 5 C.J. Fair (6-8, 215, Sr., 16.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.4 spg)
PF — 3 Jerami Grant (6-8, 210, Soph., 12.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.5 apg)
C — 25 Rakeem Christmas (6-9, 250, Jr., 5.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.7 apg, 1.7 bpg)


Location: Syracuse, N.Y.

Nickname: Orange

2012-13 record: 30-10 overall, 11-7 Big East

2013 postseason:Lost 61-56 to Michigan in the semifinals of the Final Four.

Coach: Jim Boeheim 38th year at Syracuse and overall (944-314)

Series: Syracuse leads 4-1

Last meeting: Syracuse won 88-72 on Dec. 17, 2011, in Raleigh.

Syracuse: Overview: A wave of up-and-coming talent has helped Syracuse get off to an incredible start, and overcome the loss of three starters - including point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who left to the NBA prematurely.

Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis has exceeded expectations. The product of Brampton, Ontario, is one of the top five newcomers in college basketball. Redshirt sophomore shooting guard Trevor Cooney and sophomore power forward Jerami Grant have also improved since last year, and junior center Rakeem Christmas has solidified the middle of Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense.

Backcourt: Ennis and Cooney carry the load and form one of the more underrated duos in the country. Depth isn't ideal, but former Duke transfer Michael Gbinije, plays behind both players. The 6-2, 180-pound Ennis is shooting an impressive 38.0 percent on three-pointers, and hit a dramatic game-winning three-pointer against Pittsburgh on Feb. 12. Ennis has been consistent, scoring in double figures in all but six games. He had a season-high 28 points in a 92-81 win over California Nov. 26, and posted 20 points in a 78-62 victory over Villanova Dec. 28, where his older brother Dylan Ennis plays.

Cooney was an elite long-distance shooter in high school coming out of Wilmington, Del., and has lived up to the billing. He is shooting 43.3 percent from three-point land, and torched Notre Dame for a season-high 33 points on the strength of 9-of-12 shooting from three-point range in Syracuse's 61-55 victory Feb. 3. He has scored in double figures in all but four games this season, and cracked 21-plus points in six contests. The 6-7, 200-pound Gbinije, a redshirt sophomore, is averaging 3.4 points and 1.3 assists in 12.9 minutes per game.

Frontcourt: Maryland natives C.J. Fair and Grant are a tough one-two punch at forward, and both ex-NC State recruiting targets. Junior center Rakeem Christmas and senior center Baye-Moussa Keita (when healthy) split the minutes at center. Fair, one of the top players in the ACC, has scored at least 20 points in six games, and he had a season-high 28 points in a 91-89 overtime win over Duke on Feb. 1.

The 6-8, 210-pound Grant is the son of former NBA player Harvey Grant and the younger brother of Notre Dame redshirt junior Jerian Grant and former Clemson player Jerai Grant. He played with NC State freshman center BeeJay Anya at Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha Catholic and with Team Takeover traveling team. Jerami Grant averaged a modest 3.9 points and 3.0 rebounds per game last year, but has thrived this season. Grant has five double-doubles on the season, including 24 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Duke. He has cracked double figures in all but five games.

Christmas and 6-10, 220-pound Keita aren't big factors on offense, but anchor the 2-3 zone defense. Christmas has scored in double figures in just three games, including a season-high 15 against Eastern Michigan on Dec. 31. He has blocked at least three shots in six contests.

Keita is averaging 2.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.0 block per contest. Keita missed the Pittsburgh win due to a sprained right knee. Syracuse lost 6-9, 280-pound sophomore center DaJuan Coleman for the second straight year due to injury, back in mid-December. He was averaging 4.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 13 minutes per game in 13 contests.

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