SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse finally won a close one at home, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Oshae Brissett and Tyus Battle each scored 17 points and Syracuse rallied to beat No. 18 Clemson 55-52 on Saturday to remain in the hunt for a postseason berth.
It was an opportunity for Syracuse (19-12, 8-10 Atlantic Coast Conference) to fill the biggest void on its resume — the lack of a marquee win — and the Orange capitalized. They were coming off a 15-point loss at Boston College, which put a big dent in their postseason hopes.
“It was extremely important, the biggest win we’ve had all year,” said Battle, who surpassed 1,000 career points with a second-half flurry that jumpstarted a sluggish offense. “For us to gut that one out and get the win is good for us.”
It won’t erase the memory of a four-point loss to North Carolina, a two-point loss to Notre Dame, and an overtime setback to St. Bonaventure, all in the normally friendly confines of the Carrier Dome. At least the anxiety factor dissipated somewhat heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament next week.
“We all knew what was at stake. We’re human beings. We see it,” Howard said. “That just upped our level of play, helped our level of focus all week in practice.”
Clemson (22-8, 11-7) entered the game ranked eighth in RPI and already assured of its first NCAA Tournament berth in seven years. The Tigers finished 4-6 on the road and suffered just their second loss this season after leading at halftime.
“They just outplayed us in the second 20 minutes,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “It was hard to score out there.”
Marcquise Reed had 21 points and Elijah Thomas 18 to lead Clemson as the pair accounted for all 27 Clemson points in the second half. Gabe DeVoe was 2 of 13, 0 of 6 from beyond the arc, for four points, and Shelton Mitchell failed to score despite playing all 40 minutes. DeVoe was averaging 13.3 points and Mitchell 11.9.
Frank Howard finished with 11 points for the Orange, who shot just 30.2 percent (16 of 53) for the game while Battle boosted his career points to 1,006.
Brissett broke a 50-all tie with a pair of free throws after Aamir Simms had missed a corner 3 and Brissett was fouled by Thomas while snaring the rebound. Two free throws by Paschal Chukwu gave the Orange a four-point lead with 90 seconds left, but Reed converted a fast-break layup with 43.6 seconds to go after a miss by Battle to draw Clemson to 54-52.
After Battle missed again at the shot-clock buzzer, Brissett blocked Reed close in with 3.4 seconds left and the Orange survived when DeVoe’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer caromed off the rim.
“You don’t want to give them easy buckets,” Brissett said. “We were able to get our hands up.”
Syracuse’s big three of Battle, Howard, and Brissett combined to shoot 5 of 19, (26.3 percent) for 15 points in the first half, but they all came alive in the second.
Battle scored eight straight points to key an early surge that put the Orange back in front and got the season-high crowd of 28,670 roaring. He drained 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and hit a jumper in the lane before Brissett converted a three-point play to give the Orange a 33-30 lead. Howard’s 3 off a screen by the 7-foot-2 Chukwu boosted the lead to six with 14:00 left.
Reed was the lone bright spot for the Tigers early. He drained three 3-pointers to keep them close, his third moving Clemson within 39-36 at 12:17. A three-point play and putback by Thomas and Reed’s floater in the lane tied the game at 43 with just over 9 minutes left.
HE SAID IT
“We just have to play and see what happens (with an NCAA Tournament bid),” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “Nobody knows, it’s up to the committee. It’s a tough call. We have to earn what we can in New York (in the ACC Tournament) and see what happens.”
Syracuse retired the jersey of former star Lawrence Moten at halftime. Moten still holds the school scoring record of 2,334 points, set from 1991-95, which also is the Big East record.
The Tigers led 25-22 at the break despite shooting 35 percent and hitting just 1 of 8 from beyond the arc. The Orange shot 8 of 26 (30.8 percent). Freshman Marek Dolezaj led Syracuse with seven points and leading scorer Battle had only three on 1-of-6 shooting.
Clemson: Clemson entered the game tied for third in the ACC standings and is assured of a berth in the NCAA Tournament no matter how they fare in the conference tourney next week.
Syracuse: The Orange likely still need a strong showing in the ACC Tournament if they hope to nab an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. They’re 0-3 in the conference postseason since joining the ACC five years ago.
Clemson: ACC Tournament.
Syracuse: Begins play in the ACC Tournament against Wake Forest on Tuesday. The teams split two games during the season, each winning at home.