With five of their last eight regular season games away from the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome, No. 1 Syracuse will have some challenges to face in their quest to win the ACC regular season title in their debut season in the conference. Thus far Jim Boeheim’s team has risen to every challenge, with forwards C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant and guards Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney leading the way.
And against Clemson the Orange methodically took care of business, beating the Tigers 57-44 with their defense and timely shooting proving to be the difference.
Brad Brownell’s Tigers were able to hang around for much of the evening despite the Orange capping the first half with a 9-0 run and seemingly taking control of the contest. But Clemson’s failure to make shots, as they shot just 34.1% from the field, and some untimely turnovers prohibited them from truly threatening Syracuse in the second half. Clemson finished the game with 13 turnovers, with Syracuse converting those miscues into 16 points.
The Orange don’t play fast by any stretch of the imagination as they rank 343rd in the country in adjusted tempo per kenpom.com, and Sunday’s game produced just 49 possessions, but they don’t lack the ability to quickly turn mistakes into points on the other end of the floor. The points off turnovers and Syracuse’s 32 points in the paint, with Fair (19 points) and Grant (12) doing much of the damage inside, proved to be too much for Clemson to overcome.
Even in victory there are still issues that Syracuse needs to address, with the most important one being their depth in the middle of that 2-3 zone. With DaJuan Coleman already out for the season with a leg injury, the Orange can’t afford another injury or foul trouble amongst their rotation at center.
On Sunday they lost Baye Moussa Keita in the first half to what was reported to be a sprained right knee, robbing Syracuse of a player whose greatest value is in how well he defends in the middle of the zone. And with Rakeem Christmas having to deal with foul trouble there were times in the second half when Grant was asked to play that spot. Grant’s a very good athlete and against Clemson the Orange were able to get away with using him in the middle for portions of the second half, but against the better teams in the ACC they won’t be able to do that.
According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, Keita’s status for Wednesday’s game at Pittsburgh is unknown.
In the meantime Syracuse can only take care of business with the biggest games still off in the distance. Against a scrappy Clemson team the Orange did that, limiting the Tigers’ open looks and taking full advantage of their mistakes. And that’s essentially been the formula for this group all season long.