Saturday afternoon, Syracuse breathed life into their fading NCAA Tournament hopes in the only way they know how. Despite of not making a field goal after Frank Howard’s short jumper with 8:45 remaining, the Orange (19-12, 8-10 ACC) went 10-of-12 from the free throw line, giving them just enough points to hold on for a 55-52 win at the Carrier Dome over #18 Clemson that was not secured until a half-court heave caromed off the glass and rim before failing away.
The win, combined with Boston College’s loss at Florida State, gave SU sole possession of 11th place in the conference. That sets up a first round ACC Tournament game between Syracuse and Wake Forest on Tuesday evening in Brooklyn, NY.
The dry streak of 8:45 was not the longest field goal drought of the game. The Orange defense had the Tigers (22-8, 11-7) in a stranglehold for 10:01 in the first half. That strong defensive effort, combined with 15 offensive rebounds, a 17-for-20 mark at the free throw line, and committing only seven turnovers, helped SU claim the win on a day when they shot just over 30 percent from the field.
Trailing 5-2 in the opening minutes, Syracuse had their best sustained offense of the game, going on a 12-2 run. Frank Howard drilled a three from the left wing, then Marek Dolezaj had a pretty spin into the lane that freed him for a short flip for a basket. Oshae Brissett then drove for a lay-up to make it seven straight Orange points.
Clemson broke up the streak with a lay-up, but Howard put together five straight points with some help from Dolezaj. The two ran a pick-and-roll punctuated by a short shot by Dolezaj outside the right block. Howard then added a jumper just inside the arc and a foul shot to give SU a 14-7 lead just before the midpoint of the half.
The Tiger lay-up in that time would be their last field goal until just under five minutes were on the clock, but they sewed together seven free throws and gave up just a pair of Brissett foul shots. When Clemson finally got a jumper, the basket tied the game at 16 a side.
The Syracuse cold streak continued until Tyus Battle got in the scorebook with a straightaway three that ended a span of nearly six-and-a-half minutes without a basket and nudged the Orange in front, 19-18. SU would later get a Dolezaj three-point-play to go up by two, but the last five markers of the half went to the Tigers, who held a 25-22 lead at the break.
Clemson scored the first bucket coming out of the locker room, but Battle swished a three from the left wing. After the Tigers matched that three, Battle continued to roll and a couple of his mates got in on the fun, as well.
Battle struck for three again, then added a pull-up jumper from the free throw line to tie the game and give him 1,000 points in his career at Syracuse. Brissett then drove the left side for a three-point-play and Howard swished a three off a screen to cap an 11-0 run for a 36-30 Orange lead six minutes into the second half.
The lead would grow to seven, but Clemson would erase it, needing under two minutes to tie the game. Howard snared an offensive rebound and dropped in a short jumper with 8:45 on the clock. That would prove to be the last SU field goal of the game.
Brissett made two foul shots three minutes later and Battle a couple 90 seconds after that. The Tigers went up by a point, but Brissett made three free throws over two trips for a 52-50 lead with under 2:30 to go.
After a Syracuse defensive stop, Paschal Chukwu was fouled trying to grab the rebound and went to the line with 1:30 to play. Despite having taken no previous shot attempts, Chukwu connected on both chances at the line, doubling the lead to 54-50.
After Chukwu stole the ball on the next Clemson possession, Battle could not connect on a jumper. The Tigers raced down the court for a lay-up to get within two points with 43.6 seconds left. Battle again missed and Clemson hurried upcourt once more, looking to tie.
The Tigers’ Marcquise Reed got free in the paint, but Brissett swooped over and swatted his lay-up aside. The ball caromed out of bounds off a couple players and the officials went to the replay to determine possession with 3.4 seconds left. After a brief meeting, the ball went to SU.
Dolezaj received the inbound pass and was fouled with 2.2 seconds to go. The freshman forward made the first, but missed the second and the Tigers got a halfcourt heave, but the shot hit the backboard and rim before falling away, preserving the Syracuse victory.
Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett paced the Orange with 17 points apiece. Neither player shot particularly well from the field, but Battle made three triples and Brissett made 8-of-9 at the line while also blocking three shots. Frank Howard added 11 points and Paschal Chukwu swatted four Clemson shots.
Marcquise Reed led all scorers with 21 points, burying 5-of-7 from deep for most of his damage. Elijah Thomas was the only other Tiger to reach double digits, finishing with 18 points.
Tuesday evening, SU will open ACC Tournament play against Wake Forest. Syracuse split their season series with the Demon Deacons (11-19, 4-14), as each team won on their home floor.
Wake claimed a 73-67 victory on January 3, while the Orange earned a split with a 78-70 win at the Carrier Dome on February 11. Tyus Battle averaged 23.5 points per game against the Deacons, including a 34-point eruption in the SU win. Frank Howard averaged 17.5 points in the two games, hitting five threes as he scored 23 points in the road loss, while Oshae Brissett averaged 15.5 points.
Bryant Crawford led Wake Forest in each game, compiling 11 three-pointers as he rolled up 43 points in the two outings. Mitchell Wilbekin was the only other Demon Deacon in double figures in both games, hitting seven threes for almost all of his 23 points, while Doral Moore had a 16-point, 16-rebound double-double in the loss at SU.
Tuesday’s game will start at 7:00pm Eastern from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. ESPNU will handle the television duties and that telecast will also be available at ESPN3.com.