Juwan Howard Jr. did everything he could to forge an upset of No. 3 Syracuse on a memorable night. It just wasn't enough to deprive Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim of his 900th career victory.
Howard scored 18 points — 14 in the final 6 minutes to key a furious rally that fell short — and the third-ranked Orange escaped with a 72-68 victory over Detroit in the Gotham Classic.
"We never gave up," Howard said. "That's a tribute to our team. We had the right attitude. We played a tough opponent. You usually don't want a moral victory, but we can take some positives from this game."
Boeheim, 68 and in his 37th year at his alma mater, became the third Division I men's coach to reach 900 wins. At 900-304, he joined an elite fraternity. Mike Krzyzewski (936) and Bob Knight (902) are the only other men's Division I coaches to win that many games.
The celebration nearly was delayed. Trailing 65-45 with 6:09 left after two free throws by Syracuse's James Southerland, Howard hit a 3 to get the Titans rolling.
The Orange then committed four turnovers and missed four 3-pointers and Howard became a one-man show, hitting two jumpers, another 3-pointer, and converting four free throws to bring Detroit within 67-63 in the final minute.
"We mixed it up. We got more stuff going inside," Detroit coach Ray McCallum said. "We were able to get some stops and get some runouts, and Juwan Howard really came alive. He found a rhythm and that gave us some momentum."
Michael Carter-Williams ended that momentum, hitting three of four free throws in the final seconds for the Orange.
Syracuse led 40-21 at halftime and was cruising midway through the second half when the public address announcer in the Carrier Dome invited fans to stick around for the postgame celebration. The Detroit rally started soon after.
"I didn't hear it, but the players probably heard because they sure came alive," McCallum said. "This is a big stage. Guys sitting around the hotel watching television getting ready to play the No. 3 team in the country and they're talking about going for 900 wins, coach Boeheim. That's a lot for a young man to digest.
"I thought we settled down," McCallum said. "We came out of the locker room ready to compete, made it a one-possession game, and thought we could win until the end."
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Boeheim's college roommate, teammate and fellow Hall of Famer, and Roosevelt Bouie, a star on Boeheim's first team in 1976-77, were in the Carrier Dome crowd of 17,902. Midway through the second half, fans were given placards featuring cardboard cutouts of Boeheim's face with 900 wins printed on the back to celebrate.
Boeheim was presented a jersey encased in glass with 900 emblazoned on it.
"I'm happy. I've stayed around long enough," Boeheim said at center court. "I was a little nervous."
James Southerland had 22 points for Syracuse (10-0), which increased its home winning streak to 30 games, longest in the nation. Detroit (6-5), which lost 77-74 at St. John's in the second game of the season and 74-61 at Pitt earlier this month, had its four-game winning streak snapped.
Carter-Williams finished with 10 assists and 12 points, his sixth straight double-double.
Howard and Doug Anderson both scored 18 points and Nick Minnerath had 13 for Detroit. Ray McCallum Jr., Detroit's leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, finished with nine, while Jason Calliste had seven.
Southerland scored a career-high 35 points, matching a school record with nine 3-pointers, in a win at Arkansas in late November and, after an 0-for-10 slump over three games, found his range again Saturday night with three 3s in a win over Canisius. He finished 5 of 8 from behind the arc against the Titans, all five makes coming in the first half.
One of the keys to breaking Syracuse's 2-3 zone is hitting the long ball, and Detroit struck out in the first half. The Titans were 0 for 10 and the lone 3 they did make — by McCallum with just over 6 minutes left — was negated by a shot-clock violation.
The Titans went nearly 7 minutes without a basket, and when they missed Southerland made them pay. He hit consecutive 3s — from the wing and the top of the key — to boost the Syracuse lead to 27-13 with 7:25 left.
After Howard hit a jumper from the wing to snap Detroit's scoreless drought, the Orange finished the half with a 13-6 run. The 21 points at halftime were a season low for the Titans.
C.J. Fair started the Syracuse surge with a layup and follow shot, Southerland hit two more 3s to finish the half 5 of 6 from behind the arc, and Carter-Williams hit a 3 at the shot-clock buzzer with 4 seconds left.
It hardly mattered that Brandon Triche, the Orange's leading scorer, had only one point at the break. The Orange were 6 of 10 on 3-pointers and shot 55.6 percent (15 of 27) in the opening period, and it seemed unlikely the Titans would deprive Boeheim of his milestone victory.
Detroit was 10 of 29 in the half and 28 of 60 (46.8 percent) for the game, finishing 3 of 18 from long range.