Sputtering offense dooms Syracuse in fifth loss

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Syracuse struggled on both ends of the floor

Saturday afternoon, Syracuse’s seven-game win streak ended with a thud. Or, to be more correct about it, a series of thuds, specifically ones made from a basketball hitting the backboard or rim before falling harmlessly away. The Orange shot 7-of-28 from the field in the first half, digging themselves a 22-point hole that they could not climb out of, eventually falling at Clemson, 66-53.

Only one player from SU (13-5, 4-1 ACC) would make even 40 percent of his field goal attempts in the game. Rakeem Christmas made 10-of-13 shots against the Tigers (10-7, 2-3), but even his gaudy numbers could only lift Syracuse’s field goal mark to 36.8 percent. The biggest offender was Trevor Cooney, who failed to find the net on any of his seven shots, five of them coming from behind the arc.

Clemson simply harassed the Orange on defense in the first half while drilling 53.3 percent of their field goals at the same time. They also owned the glass, outrebounding SU by a 40-30 margin, and had had no problems shooting over the 2-3 zone, burying 8-of-20 triples in spite of coming into the game shooting only 29 percent from deep.

Rakeem Christmas started the game off quickly for Syracuse, scoring on the game’s opening possession. That would set an unfortunate trend for the half, as Christmas would be the only Orange player to score in the first 13 minutes of action.

Meanwhile, the Tigers scored on their first two possessions to take a 5-2 lead. Christmas connected again to cut the margin to one, but another bucket and a triple pushed the Clemson lead to 10-4 less than four minutes into the action.

After Christmas scored again, the Tigers ran off an 11-3 run for a 21-9 lead with just over eight minutes left in the opening half. Kaleb Joseph became the second SU player to score when he dropped in a pair of foul shots with 6:56 on the clock, but Clemson rang up the next six points for a 27-11 lead.

» Related: Is Syracuse basketball’s recent win streak real or a mirage?

With just over four minutes on the clock, Joseph made a lay-up for the first field goal scored by someone other than Christmas. Again, the Tigers scored in a hurry, piling up a 10-2 burst for a 37-15 lead with a minute and change left in the half.

Michael Gbinije hit a three-pointer, but a Clemson jumper sent the teams into their locker rooms with the scoreboard reading 39-18 in favor of the hosts.

The two squads traded scores in the opening minutes of the second half until SU got consecutive scores. Those two shots began a 10-1 Orange run, pulling them within 45-32. The unfortunate part was that the clock was already draining, as the run ended just before the midpoint of the half.

Clemson withstood the Syracuse comeback effort, eventually building their lead back out to 19 points with under five minutes to go at 57-38. The Orange went into a shooting funk, but still managed to post five consecutive points, all at the line, to get within 13. A Christmas dunk shortly after drew them within a dozen.

That 12-point margin was as close as it would get, though, as the Tigers made six straight at the line while the SU shooting woes continued. The Orange got another three from Gbinije, but aside from that, all they could get was a late lay-in from Christmas and a long flight home.

Rakeem Christmas led all scorers with 21 points and also grabbed ten rebounds for his sixth double-double of the year. Kaleb Joseph recorded his first double-figure scoring game in nearly a month, finishing with a dozen points. Michael Gbnije chipped in with 11 points while Tyler Roberson pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds, including eight on the offensive glass.

Donte Grantham, who came into the game making under 26 percent of his three-pointers on the year, drilled 4-of-8 threes to lead the Tigers with 16 points. Jaron Blossomgame had a 15-point, 12-rebound effort for Clemson. Rod Hall also added 15 points for the hosts.

The Orange return home on Tuesday, when Boston College will come to visit the Carrier Dome. The Eagles (8-8, 0-4) have dropped four of their last five games, including a 66-51 home loss against Virginia on Saturday. Olivier Hanlan and Aaron Brown are a two-man show for BC, as they are collectively averaging over 30 points per game.

The matchup, which will get underway at 7:00pm Eastern, will be televised by ESPNU and be available online at ESPN3.com.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
Syracuse basketball will be squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble
Instant Juice: Syracuse 53, Clemson 66
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