The Tigers traveled to Syracuse on Sunday to take on the top ranked Orange, but their efforts fell short as Syracuse pulled away late to win 57-44. It was the 23rd consecutive win for the Orange to open the season, the best start in school history. Clemson (15-7, 6-4 ACC) battled to keep it close for much of the game, but in the end the famous 2-3 zone of Jim Boeheim proved to be too much to overcome for the Tigers.
Clemson came out strong in the first half, never falling more than five points behind the Orange for the first 16 minutes of the game, but then the Tigers went cold. Syracuse went on a 9-0 run in the final 4 minutes of the half to go into the break up 31-22.
The second half saw Clemson charge back after being down as many as 12 to keep the game close. K.J. McDaniels led the Tigers with another strong performance, dropping 19 points and adding 10 rebounds, as the Tigers cut the lead to as few as five with 10 minutes to play. C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant, the brother of former Clemson basketball player Jerai, proved too much though, as the Orange never let the Tigers get any closer, ultimately winning by 13. Fair ended the game with 19 points and 7 boards, while Grant added 12 points and 8 rebounds for Syracuse.
The problems for the Tigers came on the offensive end once again as Sunday marked the 5th consecutive game that Clemson was held to 25 or fewer points in the first half, and the third consecutive game in which the Tigers failed to score 50. The loss also marks the third conference loss in the last five games for the Tigers, after an impressive 4-1 start in ACC play.
Next up for Brad Brownell and the Tigers is a road matchup with Notre Dame on Tuesday night. The Irish have struggled since the suspension of another Grant brother, Jerian, going 4-8 since losing him due to academic reasons. While the loss to Syracuse didn’t kill Clemson’s tournament chances, losing to Notre Dame might. The Irish are just .500 overall, and 13th in the ACC. A win Tuesday is almost a must if the Tigers want to be dancing in March.