NEW YORK — St. John's coach Steve Lavin kept referring to two parts of the Red Storm's 68-63 loss to No. 2 Syracuse on Sunday.
There was the first half.
"With the great energy in the building and the fans in a true rivalry, this is as good as it gets and somehow we came out tentative, kind of on our heels," Lavin said of the first 20 minutes that ended with Syracuse leading 39-27.
Then there were the final 4 minutes, after the Red Storm had not just tied the game but taken the lead three times.
"I thought for the first 16 minutes of the second half we played the best basketball we played this year," Lavin said. "In that final four-minute stretch, we had untimely turnovers, a flurry of missed free throws. We didn't get stops. On our home court, and we had the lead. I expected to win."
Fair hit three big shots from the same spot — about 15 feet from the basket on the right baseline. The smooth left-handed shooter tied the game from there at 58 with 6:51 to go, then he made two more in the final 3 minutes as the Orange (10-0) were able to open a lead as big as seven points.
"We went to C.J., and he made a couple of tough plays. Shots that had to be made," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.
Fair smiled as he said, "I guess that's what you say is my sweet spot."
Since 1979, this had always been a Big East Conference game. Syracuse is now a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and St. John's remained in the Big East. The majority of the crowd of 16,357 was rooting for Syracuse, something they used to get to do during the Big East tournament. Now, it will be a rare visit to Madison Square Garden for the Orange.
"It was a great game at the Garden," Boeheim said.
Ennis had 15 points in the first half as Syracuse took a 39-27 lead. The Red Storm (6-3) chipped away and were able to tie it at 53 on three free throws by Rysheed Jordan with 9:16 to go. There were then four lead changes and three ties as Syracuse became the second highly ranked team to escape this weekend.
No. 1 Arizona beat Michigan 72-70 on Saturday.
D'Angelo Harrison led St. John's with 21 points on 6-of-19 shooting, including 1 of 5 from 3-point range. Jordan had a career-high 13 points for the Red Storm and JaKarr Sampson added 12.
It was the Orange's ninth straight win in the series that Syracuse leads 51-37.
The Red Storm missed their first 10 attempts from 3-point range and were 1 of 15 overall. They were coming off a 104-58 victory over Fordham in which they shot 60 percent on 3s.
"The last four minutes of a game is where Syracuse separates itself," Lavin said.
The Red Storm missed four straight foul shots after taking a 60-58 lead. They were 20 for 26 from the line overall.
"It hurts to lose, but it hurts to lose to Syracuse in particular," Harrison said. "Certain things that you can take away from the last four minutes of the game, that's what we will watch the most."
Sampson was hardest on himself after missing two free throws with St. John's trailing 62-60 and 3:12 to play.
"That's going to kill me. I've been thinking about those since I missed them," he said. "Me missing two big free throws — I feel like that was a big part of the game. I feel like it turned the momentum."