Syracuse and Baylor’s unbeaten status has been challenged in the Maui Invitational.
Now, one of them will definitely fall from those ranks.
The eighth-ranked Orange and No. 18 Bears meet for just the second time Wednesday night in the championship game at Maui.
The Maui Invitational has a history of upsets, but Syracuse and Baylor have managed to avoid them, albeit narrowly at times.
The Orange (6-0) needed a strong second half to pull away from California on Tuesday, winning 92-81 after the teams were deadlocked at 41 at the half. That came a day after the 1990 and 1998 Maui champions beat Minnesota 75-67 while leading at the break by three.
“These two games out here have been great games, great for our team,” coach Jim Boeheim said.
Baylor coach Scott Drew may not entirely share Boeheim’s sentiments after the Bears barely escaped a semifinal defeat. The Bears got a go-ahead putback from Cory Jefferson with 16 seconds left to complete a rally and beat Dayton 67-66.
“It was a great game to watch, a typical Maui-type game,” said Drew, whose team trailed by as many as 14 in the first half and by 10 over the final 7 minutes.
Baylor (6-0) also struggled early in its tournament opener, leading Division II and host Chaminade by three at the half before pulling away to win 93-77.
“We just wanted to be tough. Our mental toughness was in question as a team, so we just wanted to stay together, be tough and try to pull one out and that’s what we did,” guard Kenny Chery said after scoring 13 points against the Flyers.
Chery is averaging 12.0 points and 4.7 assists while shooting 49.0 percent from the floor. However, he may be looking for a more efficient performance after committing a season-high six turnovers - two less than his total from Baylor’s first five games.
Royce O’Neal has totaled 25 points on 8 for 12 from the floor over the past two games, scoring three more points than his total from the previous four.
If Baylor is going to emerge with its first Maui championship, it’ll likely need to improve defensively on the perimeter. The team has allowed opponents to hit 47.4 percent from behind the arc over the last three games, including an 11-for-20 performance by Dayton.
A similar effort may prove costly since the Orange made half of their 14 attempts from 3-point range while hitting 53.4 percent overall against the Golden Bears.
Trevor Cooney is vital to Syracuse’s success from beyond the arc, pouring in 20 of 41 attempts on the season. The sophomore has made 10 of 19 while totaling 38 points in this tournament.
The guard had 20 of his 23 points against Cal in the second half, while fellow guard and freshman Tyler Ennis led the way with 28.
“Our guards were unbelievable and I didn’t even know that until I looked at the stat sheet,” Boeheim said. “I knew they were pretty good, but they were better.”
Syracuse won 94-71 in the only meeting between the teams on Dec. 16, 2006.