Syracuse celebrates after beating Marquette on Saturday to advance to the Final Four for the first time in 10 years.
WASHINGTON — Syracuse junior forward C.J. Fair said he first began to follow college basketball about 10 years ago and remembers watching Carmelo Anthony, who also grew up in Baltimore, help lead the Orange to the NCAA title in 2003.
Now Fair, wearing an East Regional title T-shirt and black Final Four baseball hat, will have a chance to follow in the footsteps of Charm City product Anthony, who played at Towson Catholic near Baltimore, with a trip to the national semifinals.
Playing about 40 miles south of his hometown, Fair scored eight of his 13 points in the second half as the Orange beat cold-shooting Marquette 55-39 on Saturday in the East Regional title game at the Verizon Center.
“I remember seeing (Anthony) when he won a national championship. That team was unbelievable,” said Fair, sitting in his locker at the Verizon Center Saturday evening. He added Anthony helped raise the profile of prep hoops in Baltimore.
Syracuse (30-9), with its suffocating 2-3 zone defense, earned its first trip to the Final Four since 2003 when Anthony led the team to the national title. Now Fair will try to bring another title to Baltimore, which just celebrated an NFL crown by the Ravens.
“A lot of people thought we would lose to Montana” in the first round, said Fair, who had about 10 family and friends from Baltimore in the stands Saturday.
Fair, who played at Baltimore City College High before heading to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, was asked by a reporter if he knew President Barack Obama was at the game.
“I heard he was going to come see us but he had to go. He picked us to lose to Indiana. I will catch up with him after winning the national title,” Fair said with a smile.
Marquette made just 22.6 percent of its shots from the field and just 2 of 16 from long distance in the second half.
Fair hit two three throws with 9:33 left to give his team a 41-28 lead and then came up with a block on Vander Blue of Marquette with 6:39 to go.
Seconds later Syracuse got a rebound and Southerland (16 points) put down a thunderous dunk to give the Orange a 45-32 advantage.
Then Fair, with an orange headband high in the in air, dunked a missed shot to give Syracuse a 47-32 lead with 4:41 to go.
Southerland hit a 3-pointer to make it 50-36 with 2:20 and the orange-clad fans at the home of the Georgetown Hoyas started to celebrate as if they were in upstate New York.
“These guys have come a long way from three weeks ago,” said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, in reference to a 61-39 loss here against Georgetown. “It has been a great transformation from that period. Just a tremendous, tremendous defensive effort today.”
“It is pretty much a 180,” said Brandon Triche, who had nine points and three assists. “We stayed positive. We kept working hard. The coaching staff kept getting on us.”
Marquette (26-9) was led by Blue and reserve Gardner, who had 14 points.
“We collectively tried everything we could try,” Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said. “I thought Syracuse was great from start to finish.”
“They have great athletes,” Blue said. “They cover ground really good. They are really good at what they do” with a 2-3 zone.
“You have to do a whole bunch of stuff” to beat the zone, said point guard Junior Cadougan of Marquette.
But the Golden Eagles didn’t come close, as they made just 3 of 24 shots from 3-point range with 14 turnovers.
Syracuse had just six turnovers and won easily even though Marquette won the battle of the boards, 44-36.
Triche made a layup on a goaltending call to make it 28-21 with 14:24 left in the game.
Fair made a basket to give the Orange a 30-23 lead but Blue hit two free throws to make it 30-25 with 12:36 left. Fair responded by heading back to the baseline, hitting a one-hander from about six feet out to give Syracuse a 32-25 edge with 12:10 remaining.
A driving layup and free throw by Southerland made it 35-25 and Carter-Williams (12 points, six assists) scored on the next possession to give the Orange a 37-25 lead, its biggest of the game at the time.
Fair added six rebounds, three steals and two blocks and had no turnovers as one of two players, along with Blue to play all 40 minutes. He helped shut down Blue, who made just 3 of 15 shots from the field.
This will be the first Final Four appearance for Syracuse (30-9) since 2003, when the Orange won the national title with Anthony and guard Gerry McNamara, now an assistant coach.
Fair was joined on the all-region team by Carter-Williams, the MVP, Southerland and Gardner and Blue of Marquette.