NEW YORK (CBS/AP) — Stanford’s trip to New York City was looking pretty good.
The Cardinal were up six points on No. 5 Syracuse with about 4 1/2 minutes to play in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden on Friday night. It looked as if their third trip to the tournament final was going to end with their first Tip-Off title.
Then came the Orange’s 15-3 run to close the game and Stanford had its first loss of the season, 69-63.
“It was a great game, a hard-fought game,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said, “Give Syracuse a lot of credit down the stretch. They made big plays. Kris Joseph stepped up and made big shots and they defended well out of the zone. It was a great effort down the stretch and they were able to close the game.”
The Cardinal looked impressive in an easy win over Oklahoma State in the semifinals. What was a young team last season looked like a much more experienced squad against the Cowboys and for almost all of Friday’s game.
“Before we arrived it was so early in the season. You don’t really know the makeup of your team and how good you can be,” Dawkins said. “We found out a lot. We can be pretty good. The way we competed against good teams, this will help us improve things we have to work on and that will help us continue on the path to improving.”
Dawkins was disappointed with the loss but not with his team.
“There’s a process to it and those kids have been in that situation before and have learned from it,” he said, referring to Syracuse. “We’re still a developing team and that’s what excites me tonight. I’m looking forward to working with my group.”
Turnovers will be one of the main topics when coach and team get together again on the West Coast.
“Twenty-four turnovers makes it difficult to beat them,” he said. “They forced a lot of them. You have to be sharp and crisp with your passes. You have to value the basketball. They’re one of the best teams in the nation.”
Syracuse couldn’t get in front of Stanford until the Orange started to put on full-court pressure and closed the game on the 15-3 run.
“We played 40 minutes of good defense, 35 minutes of horrendous offense and 3 to 4 minutes of full-court pressure to get back in the game,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “They outplayed us the whole game.”
Joseph had 18 points and eight rebounds and grabbed MVP honors with 38 points and 19 rebounds in the two games.
“First of all he’s a senior and great leader and a terrific player,” Dawkins said of Joseph. “He stepped up and made big plays and he’s done that before. We tried to limit his touches, but I’ll tell you what, he hit some tough shots. We defended him well, but he finishes around the basket as well as any young man I’ve seen.”
The Orange (6-0) were never able to make a run against Stanford until the game’s final 4 minutes, when they made all five of their shots from the field and five of seven free throws. They forced the Cardinal (5-1) into 24 turnovers, including three in the closing stretch against the pressure.
“We just went back to what was working down the stretch,” Joseph said. “We played well. We played hard and came out with the win.”
Aaron Bright had 13 points for Stanford, which led 60-54 with 4:27 to go on two free throws by Chasson Randle.
Brandon Triche, who finished with 11 points, started the Orange’s big run with a drive. C.J. Fair followed with a three-point play after a turnover and Joseph gave Syracuse the lead for good, 61-60, with a banked jumper with 2:54 to go.
Joseph was asked if he called “glass” before the shot.
“If your friends ask you, you say `Definitely,'” he said sheepishly, “but I didn’t call it.”
He said he was chosen MVP because “my teammates were able to get me the ball. We all should have shared it. We all played outstanding, not just me.”
Scoop Jardine added 14 points for the Orange, and Fair and Dion Waiters, the two reserves who led the semifinal win over Virginia Tech, both had 10 points. Syracuse shot 46.7 percent for the game from the field (28 of 60), including 17 of 28 (60.7 percent) in the second half.
“In the second half we went back with the two guards who played so well the other night,” Boeheim said of Fair and Waiters, who are both sophomores.
Randle had 12 points for the Cardinal, while John Gage added a career-high 10, six more than he scored all season.
Stanford struggled against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, but it was controlling the ball rather than making shots that did in the Cardinal. They shot 42.9 percent from the field (24 of 56), but their 24 turnovers were converted into 25 points by Syracuse. The Cardinal outrebounded the Orange 36-34 and that led to a 16-11 advantage in second-chance points.
“It’s awful. It’s never good when you lose, especially when you were up the whole game,” Bright said. “Syracuse played great down the stretch and we weren’t able to make the same plays.”
The crowd of 8,477 seemed to be waiting for a Syracuse run that would keep Stanford at bay, but it didn’t happen until the final minutes when the Orange’s speed and size suddenly became a problem for the Cardinal.
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