SYRACUSE These are the kind of games that Syracuse University struggled mightily to win over the years.
Slow-paced, grind-it-out contests that allowed an underdog opponent to play with the Orange for 40 minutes.
But, as this club has already proven, it can win at any tempo, against any style. Top-ranked SU again had enough to avoid the upset and earn a 57-44 Atlantic Coast Conference win against Clemson Sunday night in the Carrier Dome before 25,931.
Adding another win, its 23rd straight, to an already record-breaking start, the Orange also made it 10 consecutive ACC wins to start its first season in the new conference. They have also now tied the 1916-17 and 1917-18 clubs for the longest win streak in school history.
Senior C.J. Fair bounced back from his worst game of the season to score 19 points for SU, which seized the lead for good with a 9-0 run to end the first half.
Sophomore Jerami Grant contributed 12 points and eight rebounds as SU dominated the paint, 31-14. Redshirt sophomore Trevor Cooney added 11 points for the Orange.
For coach Jim Boeheim, it was more evidence that this years team has consistently shown its focus when the game is on the line. Somehow, weve avoided slipping up in these types of games because the kids continue to make big plays when it counts.
The Orange, already short-handed up front with forward DaJuan Coleman out for the season with a knee injury, lost backup center Baye Moussa Keita to a right knee sprain late in the first half. He was being evaluated after the game and his status for Wednesdays big game at Pittsburgh is unknown.
And when starting center Rakeem Christmas drew his fourth foul with just over 13 minutes left and was forced to sit nearly seven minutes, Boeheim went to a smaller lineup.
He rotated Grant, at 6-foot-8 with a big wing span, from the outside to the middle of the 2-3 zone and inserted 6-7 guard/forward Michael Gbinije at small forward.
I thought Jerami did a good job in there, Boeheim said. Hes long and athletic and can cover a lot of ground. Weve been successful in the past with a smaller group. Hopefully, its not serious and Baye will be back soon.
Clemson (15-6, 6-3), which was ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense beforehand at 55 points per game, did what many of the ACC teams have done against SU. The Tigers used much of the shot clock on each possession, were prudent with the ball and tried to take good shots.
Unfortunately, only junior forward K.J. McDaniels (19 points) was able to give Clemson much offense. No other player had more than seven points, and one of the worst shooting clubs in the ACC hit just 34 percent from the floor (14-for-41).
You dont really enjoy these slower games, but weve learned to play comfortably at any pace, Fair said. Most of these games, weve been in control and the teams have had to come and get us.
Said Boeheim: You cant force tempo if someone is going to take the air out of the ball. Well take a transition basket if its there, but every time we rush a shot it plays right into their hands.
Fair, who scored a season-low six points Monday against Notre Dame, scored 11 in the first half. Boeheim said it was Fairs most efficient game of the season as he went 8-for-13 from the floor.
With the score 22-all, Cooney hit a 3-pointer, Grant had a pair of inside hoops and Fair scored on a baseline drive in the final seconds as the Orange led 31-22 at intermission.
Clemson worked its way back into the game, drawing within 42-37 with a little over 10 minutes left in the game. But Fair converted two free throws, and then a driving basket.
And Ennis, who despite having a poor game offensively, going just 3 of 11 form the floor, added a pair of key layups down the stretch as the Orange expanded the lead to double digits.
Your point guard usually has to make plays in key possessions because the plays you want to run often break down, Boeheim said. Weve asked Tyler to do that so many times, and he hasnt let us down yet.
Cooney said the rest of the team feels the Ennis calming influence. We take our cue from him, and know that hell get us in the right play or make one himself, Cooney said.
Ennis said he just took what they gave me. They were keying on C.J. and Jerami, and they just fell asleep on me for a few seconds.
SU beat Pittsburgh 59-54 on Jan. 18 at home. And though the Panthers have struggled since then, Boeheim knows the Panthers will be ready.
Every game in this league is difficult, he said. Notre Dame and Miami have two of the worst records, and they played us as tough as anybody. So you just prepare as well as you can, and hope you play well.