BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It wasn't supposed to end this way for senior C.J. Fair and Syracuse.
After starting the season with 25 straight wins and being ranked No. 1 for three weeks, the faltering Orange lost 55-53 to pesky Dayton on Saturday night in the third round of the NCAA tournament, their dreams of a second straight trip to the Final Four dashed by too many misses from 3-point range and a team that refused to cave at the end.
"They're a small team, but they're scrappy," Fair said. "Every time we had the ball, they got a hand in there. They set the tone early. We were playing catch-up the whole game."
The third-seeded Orange (28-6), who finished second in their first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, struggled all game against the swarming Dayton defence. Syracuse led only twice in the second half, falling behind for good after two free throws by Devin Oliver gave Dayton a 41-40 lead with 6:18 to play.
Syracuse missed all 10 attempts from beyond the arc, while the Flyers hit seven times from long range. It was the first time in 665 games that Syracuse failed to make a 3.
"It's hard to win making layups," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "At some point in time, you need to knock something down from the perimeter, and we didn't. It was just not a good offensive game for us. If the other team makes five or six 3s and you make five or six layups, you're six points down. That was what I saw out there tonight."
Syracuse star freshman point guard Tyler Ennis was open at the top of the key with 2 seconds left and the Flyers holding a two-point lead. When Ennis' attempt to win the game clanged harmlessly off the rim, Dayton had a victory it had been chasing for three decades.
"We have a good program with great tradition," coach Archie Miller said after his 11th-seeded Flyers reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years. "Now, we have the ability to build, and that's what it's all about."
Ennis had beaten Pittsburgh last month with a 40-foot shot at the buzzer, so he had the confidence to try again, even though Syracuse had missed nine attempts from behind the arc.
"The last shot was a great shot. It was the right play," Boeheim said. "A chance to win the game. You don't have enough time to get to the basket. I have no problem with that shot."
Neither did the 35-year-old Miller, though he probably aged just a little bit while the ball was in the air.
"That thing was on line and he went for the win," Miller said. "The thing that went through my head was the game at Pitt, when I saw that highlight 7,000 times. I thought he was going to go to the basket. When I saw him raise up, I didn't feel good about it. But Buffalo's been good to us these last couple of days on the buzzer shots."
It sure has.
Vee Sanford's basket with 3.8 seconds left was the margin of victory in Dayton's one-point win over in-state rival Ohio State on Thursday. After that game, the Dayton Daily News mocked Buckeyes fans who refer to "The Ohio State University" with a headline that read: "THE University of Dayton."
Dayton (25-10) now advances to the South Regional semifinals next week against No. 2 seed Kansas or 10th-seeded Stanford.
Syracuse was in position to pull this one out, but Ennis also missed a foul-line jumper with 8 seconds left. He was down in the subdued locker room, with red faces all around, but confident he had made the right decision as he had so many times in a standout season.
"It's hard to digest any loss," said Ennis, who finished with 19 points on 7-of-21 shooting. "They did a good job defensively, and the looks we did get we didn't capitalize."
Dyshawn Pierre scored 14 points and Jordan Sibert, held scoreless in the first half, hit a key 3-pointer with 47.7 seconds for Dayton.
Sibert finished with 10 points and Sanford had eight, but Sibert nearly gave it away when he stepped out of bounds while the Orange pressured him in the corner with 14 seconds left.
After Ennis settled for a jumper from the foul line that missed, instead of driving the lane as he had all night, Syracuse fouled Pierre and he made one free throw, giving the Orange one more golden opportunity that they didn't take advantage of.
Fair had 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting and 10 rebounds in his final game for the Orange. Jerami Grant had just four points and attempted only three shots before fouling out late.
Trevor Cooney, who broke out of a long slump with four 3-pointers in the second round against Western Michigan, had two points and missed all four shots he took from behind the arc.
"When you make shots, you win. When you don't make shots, you lose in close games," Boeheim said. "Early in the year, we made shots."