SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Perfection slowed to a drip for Syracuse on Sunday, but the Orange proved their resourcefulness by washing away another opponent.
Forward C.J. Fair scored 19 points, and forward Jerami Grant added 12 points and eight rebounds as No. 1 Syracuse held off pesky Clemson 57-44 Sunday in an Atlantic Coast Conference game in the Carrier Dome.
Forward K.J. McDaniels was the only Clemson player to score in double figures, finishing with 19 points.
The Orange (23-0, 10-0 ACC) tied a school record with its 23rd consecutive win. Syracuse also accomplished the feat in the 1916-17 and 1917-18 seasons.
The Tigers (15-7, 6-4) came into the contest with the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, allowing an average of just 55 points a game. However, the Orange’s defense proved just as stingy, limiting Clemson to 14-of-41 shooting from the floor (34.1 percent).
Syracuse made 24 of 54 shots (44.4 percent) against an overmatched opponent determined to slow down the game’s pace. The Orange prevailed despite shooting nearly 15 points under their season average.
“It’s what you have to do. You have to be patient,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “You have to make sure you get a good shot. We like to run, but people are going to do what they are doing. We can play that way, and are pretty successful playing that way over the years.”
Clemson used its slow-down strategy to hang within five points early in the second half, but that was only half the problem. Syracuse’s 2-3 zone choked off any attempt at a Tigers rally, and Clemson couldn’t capitalize inside when Syracuse center Baye Moussa Keita missed the second half with a sprained right knee.
“It would have been nice for us to do a little bit better job of getting it in there and doing more,” Clemson coach Brad Brownwell said. “You can’t simulate their zone in practice. It’s difficult to deal with.”
The Orange shook off the Tigers with a second-half push.
Fair dropped in two foul shots for a 44-37 Orange edge with 10:25 remaining, then sank a jumper with 8:26 left for a nine-point cushion.
“This was, I thought, his most efficient game of the year,” Boeheim said of Fair. “I thought he was really good. He hit a couple of big shots.”
Syracuse guard Tyler Ennis made it 48-37 on a layup with 6:56 left. Tigers guard Damarcus Harrison countered with a trey to bring his team back within 48-40.
Grant’s layup padded Syracuse’s cushion to 10 with 4:45 left, and McDaniels countered with two foul shots to slice the difference to 50-42 with 4:19 remaining.
“I just think in the defensive end, we weren’t getting stops,” Clemson forward Jaron Blossomgame said. “We got down on ourselves mentally a little bit.”
The Orange then ran off seven in a row, on a layup by center Rakeem Christmas, another short shot by Ennis and a 3-pointer from guard Trevor Cooney for a 57-42 lead with 2:04 remaining.
“We just go with the way the flow of the game is going,” Ennis said. “I think we’re versatile in that sense. We can run in the running game and slow it down in the half court.”
Clemson pushed back from a 12-point deficit early in the second half to cut the Orange’s lead to five midway through the period.
A slow-paced first half played to Clemson’s game plan, but after some early jousting the Orange rode a 9-0 run late in the half to a 31-22 lead at the break.
Cooney broke a 22-22 tie with a 3-pointer at the 3:43 mark, and Grant’s lay-in boosted the margin to five points with 3:01 remaining.
Grant snared an offensive rebound and put back a layup with 1:10 left for a 29-22 lead. Fair capped the first half with a layup with six seconds left.
“They have some good pieces that fit together,” Brownwell said of the Orange. “Everybody embraces their role. They make you guard. They make you go down and play defense. It’s very disciplined. Some teams would have players that would want to go crazy in transition.”
Fair led the Orange with 11 points in the first half, and Grant chipped in with eight
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