BOSTON — Syracuse will be playing for a spot in the Final Four because of numbers.
C.J. Fair put up some like he hadn’t in a while, and the Orange finished with offensive statistics that Wisconsin just doesn’t allow in a 64-63 victory in the East Regional semifinals Thursday night that wasn’t secure until the final buzzer.
"Offensively we played very, very well and we had to play very, very well," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.
Fair finished with 15 points — five fewer than he had in the last six games combined — on 7-of-9 shooting. The Orange scored 11 more than the Badgers allowed on average in leading Division I.
Syracuse shot 55 per cent from the field, well above the 38.5 per cent Wisconsin gave up this season, and the Orange were 5 of 9 from three-point range, much better than the 28.8 per cent the Badgers allowed.
All those numbers mean the Orange (34-2) will play second-seeded Ohio State (30-7) in the regional final Saturday with a trip to New Orleans at stake.
"I can’t tell you how good it feels to win a game like this," Boeheim said. "This was a great, great game."
And it wasn’t decided until Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor missed a three-pointer with three seconds left. Josh Gasser corralled the rebound but his toss toward the basket was off at the buzzer.
"It was on line, and I felt like I got my legs into it," Taylor said. "I knew it was a deep three, but it felt good, and then to see it kind of come up short was kind of heartbreaking."
Montreal’s Kris Joseph, a 75 per cent free throw shooter, had missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 18 seconds to go with Syracuse up by a point, giving the Badgers (26-10) a chance at the victory.
Joseph finished with seven points and two rebounds.
Passing the ball around the perimeter of the zone but not creating much space, Wisconsin had to settle for Taylor’s shot.
"We were just trying to get an open shot and try and make them rotate in the zone," Taylor said. "We did a little bit, but they did a good job of recovering to open guys there. They used the length that they have and kind of forced us into a tough shot, and it obviously didn’t go down. So it was tough. Hats off to them."
The Badgers finished 14 of 27 from three-point range but couldn’t make one over the final 6 minutes after a stretch in the second half when they made six straight in as many possessions.
"I think we naturally tried to move out," Boeheim said, referring to Syracuse’s famed 2-3 zone. "But you’ve got to get them off their spots. We didn’t do that for a stretch out there. But they have terrific ball movement, and they have five guys that can shoot. There aren’t that many teams like that."
Scoop Jardine had 14 points for Syracuse, while Dion Waiters had 13 and Brandon Triche 11.
But it was Fair who made the difference after not being a factor late in the season.
The 6-foot-8 sophomore forward, the Orange’s fifth-leading scorer at 8.3 points per game, was 7 for 27 from the field over a six-game stretch. The Orange had been struggling offensively as well, failing to reach 60 points three times in their last seven games.
"Sometimes you just need to see the ball go in the rim," Fair said.
Jared Berggren and Taylor both had 17 points for Wisconsin, which came in allowing 52.9 points per game.
Syracuse reached that many points with 9 minutes to play, but there were two lead changes and two ties still to come.
"It was a nailbiter, but we made some plays down the stretch and got a couple of stops," Fair said.
Wisconsin, which averaged 7.7 three-pointers per game and has a season high of 15, hit its last three with 7:03 to play when Taylor gave the Badgers their final lead of the game, 59-56.
Syracuse went ahead for good on a spin move by Waiters with 6:03 to play, but the lead was never more than three points.
Gasser made two free throws with 31 seconds left to bring Wisconsin within 64-63.
"I think that was the best game anybody has ever played against us and didn’t beat us," Boeheim said.
The win was No. 890 overall for Boeheim, third on the all-time list, and it was his 48th in the NCAA tournament, breaking a tie for fifth place with John Wooden.
"Syracuse just has too many athletes that can do so many things, and it’s hard to prepare for that on the defensive end. You think you’re getting things done, but you’re a step behind," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. "So we did the best we could, and I thought we played great defence. Not everybody on the court agreed with that, but I thought we played unbelievable defence for the most part. "
Syracuse won again without starting centre Fab Melo, who was declared ineligible for the tournament by the school just days before the Orange opened with a shaky win over 16th-seeded North Carolina-Asheville.
The Badgers were trying to reach the regional final for the first time since 2005.