SYRACUSE, NY -- Mid-December games at home against teams from mid-major conferences used to be cakewalks for coach Jim Boeheim's Syracuse teams.
But not this year.
The Orange (6-5, 1-1 ACC) made just enough plays in the second half, Oakland (5-7) of the Horizon League failed to take advantage of some golden opportunities and Syracuse outlasted the Golden Grizzlies 74-62 on Wednesday night.
Elijah Hughes had 23 points and Joe Girard III had 20 points and seven assists to lead Syracuse.
Buddy Boeheim chipped in with 14 points for the Orange, who won for just the second time in six games. Bourama Sidibe had 13 rebounds for Syracuse, three below his career high.
Brad Brechting scored 20 points to lead the Golden Grizzlies, who were playing the final game of a six-game road trip. Xavier Hill-Mais added 16.
“Every game is a going to be a fight for us,” said Boeheim. “There's not going to be anything easy. We're going to have games where we're not going to make shots that I think we can. But we made enough tonight.”
Syracuse's defense came through down the stretch, too, holding the Golden Grizzlies without a field goal the final 6:37.
“We got a little active at the end,” said Boeheim, who was forced to do double duty as an impromptu cheerleader trying to spark some energy into the sparse and mostly silent Carrier Dome crowd held down by some awful winter weather.
“I had to cheer, trying to get somebody to make noise. It's sad, sickening really, to see we can't get some help here. We desperately need it. And it picked up our defense just enough. We got a couple of plays out of it. But we have to have some help. That's the whole purpose of playing at home and I'm a little too old to try to be a cheerleader here.”
Oakland coach Greg Kampe and Boeheim are two of the longest-active tenured coaches in the country. Both are coaching extremely young teams. Gampe was proud of his team's effort but bemoaned his team's youth.
“I’m pleased with how we competed, but not pleased with how, when it was important winning time, we couldn’t make the play,” Kampe said. “We're two coaches who’ve coached a long time and I think we have some frustration with all the youth. You’re expecting guys to do things and they don’t do them. We had opportunities but we’re just so young and so inexperienced that we couldn’t take advantage of them. They’re the same way, though. They’re young and they’re inexperienced. It was two teams searching and trying to find themselves.”
The Orange missed their first five field goal attempts and didn't connect until Girard hit a 3-pointer with nearly four minutes gone. The Orange hit 41% from the field but just 11 of 34 from beyond the arc.
The Golden Grizzlies hit 43% from the field but just 22 percent from three, going 4 for 18. Oakland was strong inside, outscoring the Orange 30-20 in the paint.
The Orange held a 43-35 lead at the half and built an 11-point lead, 55-44, on a slam by Marek Dolezaj with less than 14 minutes to go. The Golden Grizzlies narrowed the margin to 55-51 on a bank shot by Hill-Mais with 11:24 remaining and had a chance to narrow the margin to four with 4:36 to go but Blake Lampman missed the front end of a one-and-one. The Orange slowly increased their margin the rest of the way. A lay-in by Sidibe with 3:34 to go gave the Orange a 70-60 lead.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump,” Brechting said. “It's very frustrating. We were right there the whole time.”
Despite the narrow escape, Hughes feels better days are ahead for his Orange.
“We're headed in the right direction,” Hughes said. “We had a lot of open looks today that we just kind of missed. We're getting better.”
YOU HAD TO SEE IT TO BELIEVE IT
With time running out on the possession, Lampman threw up a left-handed prayer from about 50 feet away that went off the glass and in.
Hughes injected some energy into the lifeless Carrier Dome with a monster, tomahawk jam with about three minutes to go in the first half.
Oakland's inside duo of Hill-Mais and Brechting were a combined 12 for 16.
Syracuse entered the game averaging 26 shots from beyond the arc. On Wednesday, the Orange attempted 34 threes. Twenty-two of those came in the first half.
AN OFF NIGHT FROM DOWNTOWN
Lampman, Oakland's best outside shooter, was just 1 for 7. All of his attempts were from three.
The Golden Grizzlies return home for a Saturday matchup against Fairfield.
The Orange host North Florida on Saturday in the middle game of a three-game homestand.
For more AP college basketball coverage: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://twitter.com/AP—Top25