Christmas scores 35, Syracuse beats Wake Forest 86-83 in OT
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) The temperature hovered around zero outside the Carrier Dome. Inside, Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas was molten hot.
The senior center continued his breakout season on Tuesday night, scoring a career-high 35 points, including eight in overtime, to lead the Orange to an 86-83 victory over Wake Forest.
It was Syracuse's seventh straight win.
''Last year C.J. (Fair) was a leader and Baye (Keita) was a leader. I knew this year I had to step it up. I knew they were going to start to get me the ball a whole lot more,'' Christmas said after hitting 13 of 21 from the field and 9 of 12 from the line, including six straight in overtime.
''If they play me 1-on-1, coach just wants me to go.''
Instructions followed perfectly and his teammates were in awe.
''In today's game I've never seen a better big-man performance,'' said Michael Gbinije. ''It's rare you see a big man score 35 points. He's taking care of business for us. He's getting after it. He's a different player for us this year. He's aggressive. He's calling for the ball. His skill-set is a whole lot better.''
''He's taking a different approach to the game this year,'' added Trevor Cooney, who had 21 points. ''He's starting to realize how good he is. He has a swagger about himself and really taken on a leadership role. He's just unbelievable.''
Gbinije scored 17 points, all but one after halftime, for Syracuse (13-4, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference.
Freshman Konstantinos Mitoglou, who entered the game averaging 7.6 points a game and 28 percent from the 3-point line, scored a season-high 26 points for Wake Forest (9-9, 1-4). The 6-foot-10 Mitoglou hit his first nine shots and Codi Miller-McIntyre had 24.
''We had such a good start, but we relaxed, and when the big kid (Mitoglou) came in we allowed him to shoot, and you can't let guys like that shoot,'' Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. ''He's a great shooter and we never could adjust from that.''
Still, Boeheim was practically effusive over the win, coming just two days after losing freshman forward Chris McCullough to a season-ending knee injury.
''When we were down by nine, we made some unbelievable plays,'' he said. ''It was a great effort - playing Sunday night at 8 (p.m.) and then coming back tonight. It's difficult, very difficult.
''We got tired, but even when we got tired we made good plays. We had to overcome a lot of things tonight. It was a tremendous, tremendous win.''
Wake coach Danny Manning liked his team's effort, not the result.
''I'm not happy. We lost,'' Manning said.
Gbinije said the victory should get people to sit up and take notice.
''Absolutely, there was a sense of urgency tonight,'' Gbinije said. ''We want to get back in the national rankings, and we feel like we can make a run in the ACC.''
Gbinije's step-back 3-pointer staked Syracuse to a 79-75 lead midway through the extra period, and after a layup by Devin Thomas pulled the Demon Deacons within 79-78 with 75 seconds left, Christmas sank six straight free throws to boost the margin to 85-80.
Miller-McIntyre countered with a long 3 from the wing with 4.7 seconds to play, and Cornelius Hudson clanged a shot off the rim from beyond half court at the buzzer that would have forced a second overtime.
Gbinije, who also had 11 rebounds, missed a chance to win it in regulation for Syracuse when his driving layup bounced off the rim with 3.2 seconds left and the game tied at 71.
Gbinije had given the Orange a 71-68 lead with two clutch free throws with 23.3 seconds remaining, but Hudson tied it with an open 3 from the wing with 14.1 seconds left. It was his only basket of the game on eight attempts.
Wake Forest: Thomas had 10 rebounds and 11 points before fouling out with 43 seconds to go in overtime.
Syracuse: Tyler Roberson started his fifth game for the Orange and pulled down 10 rebounds, four on the offensive end.Syracuse is now 3-0 all-time vs. Wake.
Wake Forest hosts North Carolina on Jan. 21
Syracuse is at Clemson on Saturday.
Wake Forest: Wake's bench scored 31 points compared with just three for the Orange's subs. Of course, 26 belonged to Mitgolou.
Syracuse: The Orange - and Trevor Cooney - are getting their respective acts together from the 3-point line. Syracuse shot 9 of 21 from beyond the arc and Cooney hit 5 of 12. He is now 34 of 74 from the 3 over his last nine games.