Clemson was within five points of top-ranked Syracuse midway through the second half, the Orange's starting center was on the bench with four fouls, and his backup was next to him with a sprained right knee.
The perfect storm?
Not against the Orange (23-0, 10-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who have found a way to win every game this season. Any chance at pulling an upset vanished as 6-foot-8 Jerami Grant was inserted in the middle of the Syracuse zone and held his own, and C.J. Fair scored 19 points to lead Syracuse to a 57-44 victory over the Tigers on Sunday night.
"We had to keep our composure and just fight," said K.J. McDaniels, who finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Tigers. "We fought, but we need to fight a lot more."
It was the 10th time Clemson (15-7, 6-4) had faced the No. 1 team in the nation, and the Tigers have yet to win. The last time Clemson played a No. 1 team was against North Carolina, an 86-81 loss in the 2008 ACC tournament, and the Tigers' last true road game against the nation's No. 1 team was Feb. 8, 2004, an 81-55 loss at Duke.
"We've got to tend to our business," Jaron Blossomgame said. "It was frustrating. We'd guard him (Fair) for 30 seconds, then they get a shot and the offensive rebound. It was very frustrating. But we're definitely growing up as a team. I do feel like we're getting more mature as the season goes on."
Syracuse shot 44.4 percent (24 of 54) and held the best defensive team in the nation to 14-of-41 shooting (34.1 percent). The Orange also committed just five turnovers, dominated the paint 32-14 and matched the Tigers with 13 offensive rebounds.
Syracuse led by nine at halftime and extended the lead to 39-27 on Fair's nice scoop off the glass with 15:40 left.
The Tigers answered with a 10-3 spurt to get right back in it as Syracuse center Rakeem Christmas went to the bench with his fourth foul.
Jordan Roper started the surge with a 3 from the right wing, McDaniels followed with a free throw and a dunk, and Josh Smith's hook in the lane pulled Clemson to 42-37 with 10:41 to play.
"There were some good things, but from a team standpoint, we're all competitors," Blossomgame said. "We want to win. We feel like every game we go into we can win."
Fair responded with a pair of free throws and a pretty runner crossing the lane to boost the lead back to nine with 8:27 left.
"It's all about going to the next game. You don't want to dwell on a good or bad game. We had good rhythm coming into this game," said Fair, who had a season-low six points against Notre Dame on Monday night. "I just needed to be aggressive and not really force things. Coach is always stressing that. That's what I was trying to do, play off my teammates.
"Without wearing myself out, I wanted to wear him (McDaniels) out," Fair said. "When the best player on the opposite team is guarding you, you want to make their job hard. I just wanted to keep him busy."
Syracuse extended its school record for wins to start a season and matched the program mark for consecutive wins, established in the 1916-17 and 1917-18 seasons. It was the third meeting between the teams and first in Syracuse, and the Orange's first victory.
"They have very good pieces that fit together," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "Everybody has a role. They embrace their role. They're very unselfish. There doesn't look to be any jealousy. We had a chance, but they were just too good."
Syracuse has faced a slow pace for most of the season and when the Orange went ahead 48-37 on Tyler Ennis' lefty layup with 6:56 to play, coach Jim Boeheim could breathe a sigh of relief.
"You really don't want to be behind in a slow game," Boeheim said. "There aren't going to be a lot of points scored."
This victory came with the 6-foot-8 Grant playing substantial time in the second half at center and holding his own.
"We are a pretty good defensive team, but they got some easy lay-ins. We've got to cut that out and get better," Blossomgame said.
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