New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Chris McCullough had 20 points and a critical steal in the final seconds that enabled No. 23 Syracuse to hold on for a 66-63 victory over Iowa in the 2K Classic third-place game.
The Hawkeyes cut a 15-point second-half deficit down to one and had a chance to take the lead, but McCullough stepped in front of Aaron White to intercept Adam Woodbury's pass into the lane and was fouled with 8.4 seconds remaining. The talented freshman then buried two free throws to help keep Iowa at bay.
"Coach told me I gotta get in the passing lane and get a steal," McCullough said. "And that's exactly what happened."
Rakeem Christmas added 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting as Syracuse (3-1) bounced back from a surprising 73-59 loss to California in Thursday's semifinals. Trevor Cooney contributed 14 points to the win.
Jared Uthoff led the Hawkeyes' near-comeback by netting 15 of his 20 points in the second half. White finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Woodbury tallied 12 points for Iowa (2-2).
"I was proud of how we fought," said Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery. "I was proud that we got to the point that we had a chance to win. I felt good about that, but not the mistakes we made."
Syracuse owned a 34-29 edge at halftime behind 13 points from Christmas and outstanding work on the defensive end, then began to pull away after the break. McCullough netted seven of his points during a 16-4 run that the young forward capped with a reverse layup which staked the Orange to a seemingly comfortable 50-35 lead with 12:05 left to play.
The Orange were up 57-43 with 8 1/2 minutes remaining before Iowa began to find its shooting touch. The Hawkeyes recorded the next eight points, beginning an eventual 15-2 stretch that put the outcome squarely in doubt.
Uthoff knocked down a 3-pointer to bring Iowa within 59-56, and White followed with a dunk off a Syracuse turnover that cut the margin to one with 3:34 to go.
The Orange still led by just one when Kaleb Joseph missed a quick pull-up jumper and Iowa corralled the rebound with under a minute to go. The Hawkeyes then ran down the clock out of a timeout but never got off a shot, as Woodbury's look for White instead landed in McCullough's hands. The two resulting free throws put Syracuse up 65-62 with 8.4 seconds left.
"That was the game," Orange head coach Jim Boeheim said of McCullough's steal. "If he doesn't come across and get that one, we don't win. It was a great play."
Christmas left the door open for Iowa to force overtime by making 1-of-2 at the line for a 66-63 lead. However, the Orange fouled Mike Gesell on the floor and the Hawkeyes guard missed both foul shots, with McCullough collecting the rebound to seal the win.
Iowa shot a poor 33 percent in the first half and trailed by as many as seven early on before finding a brief comfort zone later in the period. The Hawkeyes put together a 9-2 run to claim a 24-21 lead just over 12 minutes in, but the Orange turned up the defensive intensity and scored seven straight points to move back in front.
McCullough had nine rebounds in addition to his 20 points, while fellow freshman Joseph dished out eight of the Orange's 17 assists ... Syracuse went 3-for-15 from 3-point range and is shooting 25.4 percent (16-for-63) from beyond the arc through its first four games ... The schools squared off for the first time since Iowa posted an 88-77 victory in a 1980 NCAA Tournament East Region matchup in Philadelphia. The Hawkeyes had won their two previous meetings with the Orange.