Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim could not afford to take all-American Billy Owens out of Wednesday's game against Canisius until three minutes remained in the contest.
The 6-foot-9 forward barely had time to sit down when he left the game for the first time. One minute later, Boeheim had to put Owens back in to help ensure the 92-83 Syracuse victory.
Such is the stuff of moral victories, which is what Canisius achieved in a nine-point loss to the third-ranked team in the nation.
This Canisius team seems bent on proving it is a much improved version of the Blue and Gold.
Wednesday, the Griffs (4-2) turned in their sixth solid effort in as many games, staying within sight of the Orange (8-0) until the final minute.
The Griffs led for the first 12 minutes. They were down by one with 15 minutes to go. They were within six with one minute left.
They were not intimidated by the Carrier Dome crowd. They ran their offense for good shots. They outrebounded Syracuse by 44-34.
"When I went in the locker room I was upset," Canisius coach Marty Marbach said. "We had a real shot at winning. I yelled at 'em a little, but I also told them I was proud of their effort. A shot here, a call there, who knows?"
"They thought this would be another one of the blowouts on their schedule," said Griff center Ed Book. "I thought Syracuse was shocked it was such a tough game. Playing against a big team like this and playing the way we did makes us feel good about ourselves."
The one thing Canisius found impossible to do was stop Owens.
The junior dominated inside and scored 34 points in 39 minutes. One got the feeling if Syracuse had needed him to score another dozen he would have done so.
"We wanted to make him work to get the ball and then try to swarm him with our guards," Marbach said. "He's just too good."
Owens and pressure defense ensured Syracuse of keeping its unblemished record.
The Griffs made 29 turnovers, the majority coming against traps and double-teams, tactics that allowed Syracuse to display its superior athleticism.
In the last two minutes of the first half, Syracuse forced three quick turnovers en route to turning a 35-34 deficit into a 45-37 lead at intermission.
"The last two minutes of the first half was the only time when we really broke down," Marbach said. "They had 45 at halftime and 14 of those points came on steals for layups."
Canisius pulled to within 50-49 eeze Orange
five minutes into the second half. But then Owens scored 17 points in 10 minutes as Syracuse built its lead to 16 points, 79-63.
The Griffs fought back to within 87-81 with 1:07 left but could not pull out the giant upset.
The positives for the Griffs included the play of the front line -- Nixon Dyall, Ed Book and Harry Seymour.
Dyall, a 6-7 junior, had 21 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. He pushed his team-high scoring average to 13.8 ppg.
The 6-11 Book had 20 points and tied a career high with 12 rebounds. The 6-5 Seymour had 14 points and seven boards.
"Canisius did a great job off the backboards, and that's one of our strengths," Boeheim said. "You're going to have games where an underdog plays well and you don't play your best."
The Griffs also ran their half- court offense with poise and patience.
That is partly attributable to the continued solid play of junior point guard Rodney Brown. He had 10 points and made just two turnovers in 33 minutes.
Senior guard Chuck Giscombe was the other Griff in double figures with 14 points.
Canisius shot 49 percent from the field, while Syracuse hit 52 percent.
Syracuse got 16 points apiece from forwards Dave Johnson and LeRon Ellis.
The announced crowd of 27,037 made it the largest ever for a Canisius game. However, that figure was tickets sold. There were perhaps 10,000 no-shows.
The loss was the Griffs' 15th straight to the Orange but was Canisius' best effort since a 52-48 overtime loss in 1984-85.
The task for the Griffs now is to put forth a similarly strong performance Saturday, when they meet St. Bonaventure at Memorial Auditorium.