Maui. HI (SportsNetwork.com) - The Maui Invitational will come to a close of Wednesday, as the 18th-ranked Baylor Bears and eighth-ranked Syracuse Orange duke it out in the championship game.
Syracuse has proven its worth as one of the nation's top teams not only in this event, but throughout the first three weeks of the season, as it has won all six of its games. After dismissing Minnesota in the opening round, 75-67, it advanced to the title tilt with a 92-81 win over California in the semifinals on Tuesday. The game was close until midway through the second half when the Orange pulled away with a 13-2 run. The squad shot 53.4 percent from the field and 23-of-24 from the line, with Tyler Ennis leading the way with a career-high 28 points. Trevor Cooney netted 23 points, Jerami Grant tallied 19 points and eight rebounds in a reserve role, and C.J. Fair chipped in 14 points, albeit on just 5-of-17 from the floor.
After dismissing Chaminade in the first round (67-66), Baylor appeared in trouble in the semifinals against Dayton, as it trailed for the majority of the contest, and by 10 points with under seven minutes left, but it managed to claw its way back, and with 17 seconds left, Cory Jefferson connected on the game-winning layup to give it the thrilling 67-66 victory to keep its perfect season alive. The Bears shot 50 percent from the floor in the win and had five players reach double figures, led by Kenny Chery and Royce O'Neale with 13 points apiece. Gary Franklin, Isaiah Austin and Jefferson all contributed to the well-rounded effort with 10 points each.
Baylor and Syracuse have met just once before, with the Orange coming away with a 94-71 win in December of 2006 in the Carrier Dome.
As their unblemished record suggests, the Orange have been dominant at both ends of the floor this season, boasting extraordinary scoring (+13.5), rebounding (+8.5) and turnover (+6.8) margins, while shooting 44.4 percent from the field. Fair is the catalyst with 17.0 points per game, although he could stand to improve upon his lackluster start from 3-point range (4-of-15). Meanwhile, Cooney (14.8 ppg) has been outstanding from beyond the arc, draining 20-of-41 from long distance. Grant (13.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg) is a mainstay in the frontcourt, while Ennis's (11.8 ppg) great game on Tuesday allowed his poor field goal percentage to creep up to .365.
Much like its counterpart, Baylor has proven itself to be an elite team by shooting 47 percent from the floor for 75.7 points per game, 9.2 points more than it yields at the other end. The Bears also rip down nearly 10 more rebounds per game than their opponents, but where they differ from the Orange is in the turnover battle, as they create fewer than 10 takeaways per game while committing 13.7 turnovers themselves. It's a dead heat for the team's leading scorer, with Jefferson (12.8 ppg), Brady Heslip (12.3 ppg) and Chery (12.0 ppg) all jockeying for position, with Isaiah Austin (10.2 ppg) only slightly behind. Jefferson (8.7 rpg, 1.8 bpg) and Austin (5.3 rpg, 4.0 bpg) make up a rather imposing duo in the frontcourt.