After hot and cold performances on the ACC road this season, Clemson hung around enough to make the over 26,000 Orange fans in attendance at the Carrier Dome a little nervous Sunday night.
With 10 minutes left, the Tigers rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to down five, but No. 1 Syracuse's size, talent and quirky 2-3 zone prevailed in the end, 57-44.
K.J. McDaniels was responsible for a game-high 19 points, adding 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. The 6-foot-6 junior added two blocks in a losing effort. Jaron Blossomgame added seven for the Tigers, with four rebounds. Clemson won the rebound battle 31-29 over Syracuse, who came in one of the better teams in the ACC on the glass. But the Tigers suffered from a 34 percent shooting effort against the Orange’s famous 2-3 zone. Syracuse was led by C.J. Fair, matching McDaniels' 19 points. The Orange were held 14 points below their season scoring average.
"We just kind of didn't knock enough balls loose and have enough defensive intensity," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "It's hard. Their zone is very good and they cover up so many things that you have to earn every basket you get.
"I thought we did a decent job at times attacking in certain situations, but at the end of the day, you have to play very, very well to beat the No. 1 team and we're just not good enough to do that yet."
Clemson hung tight for most of the first half. The Tigers were down 10-4 before Rod Hall connected on a four-point play, Clemson’s first in two seasons. Still down 22-18, the Tigers knotted the game at 22 apiece after a tip-in and two free throws by McDaniels. The Orange then held Clemson scoreless for the final four minutes and change to close out the half, as it went on a 9-0 run. The Tigers were victimized by 10 second chance points off of five Syracuse offensive rebounds in the half, and for 19 points throughout the course of the game.
"There's some size issues that cause us problems in certain areas," said Brownell. "When you play a team like Syracuse, they're going to do a good job with that. C.J. Fair was a tough matchup for us and I thought we gave up too many offensive rebounds. We were late to help a couple times. If you don't block the shot, it's a lay-in for them."
The second half saw much of the same as the first, with Syracuse pulling ahead by as much as 12 before Clemson whittled the lead down to five at 42-37. The Orange then put together an 8-3 run that culminated with a driving layup by Jerami Grant, the younger brother of 2011 Clemson senior Jerai Grant. Minutes later, a deep three by Cooney gave Syracuse its largest lead at 15 with two minutes to play.
It was Syracuse’s first win in three tries against Clemson, who fell to 15-7 on the season and 6-4 in the ACC. Syracuse upped its undefeated mark to 23-0 with a 10-0 record in its first season in the conference.
The Tigers stay on the road and depart for South Bend, IN after the game. Clemson will face Notre Dame on Tuesday at 7 p.m.