SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Another challenge. Another challenge met.
C.J. Fair rebounded from his worst game of the season with 19 points, Jerami Grant added 12 in an expanded role down low, and No. 1 Syracuse beat Clemson 57-44 on Sunday night to remain unbeaten.
No matter what or who they’ve faced this season, the Orange have found a way to win.
Fair, who was 2 for 13 for a season-low six points against Notre Dame on Monday, responded with an 8-for-13 shooting night in playing K.J. McDaniels, of Clemson, to a virtual standstill. McDaniels also scored 19 and had a game-high 10 rebounds, three more than Fair, and both played 39 minutes.
“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,” Fair said. “I just needed to be aggressive and not really force things. That’s what I was trying to do, play off my teammates.”
Syracuse (23-0, 10-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) 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.”
Former Laney star Rod Hall had four points for the Tigers.
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.
“It was frustrating,” Jaron Blossomgame said. “There were some good things, but from a team standpoint, we’re all competitors. We want to win. We feel like every game we go into we can win.”
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 with starter Rakeem Christmas on the bench with four fouls and Baye Moussa Keita next to him with a sprained right knee. A month ago, before hulking sophomore center Dajuan Coleman was lost for the season to a knee injury, Syracuse had 15 fouls to give at the position.
“It’s fine. Whatever my team needs,” Grant said. “I think that’s what makes us a great team. I need to get used to it. I’ve just got to know where all the rebounds are, know where other people are.”
Trevor Cooney finished with 11 points for the Orange and Ennis had six points, five assists and one turnover.
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 and dominated the paint, 32-14.
Syracuse led by nine at the break 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 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.
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. After Damarcus Harrison’s 3-pointer, Grant came back with a baseline drive off the glass at 4:45 to boost the lead to double digits. Cooney’s 3 from the top of the key extended it to 15 with 2:03 left.
Clemson entered the game leading Division I in scoring defense, yielding an average of 55 points per game. The Tigers also ranked eighth in field goal percentage defense (.378) and 12th in blocked shot average (6.1). Syracuse shot 50 percent (13 of 26) in the first half and held the Tigers to 6-of-22 shooting (27.3 percent) while blocking three shots to two for the Tigers in gaining a 31-22 lead at the break.
Keita sprained his right leg with just more than 6 minutes left in the opening half and went to the locker room to be evaluated. He did not play in the second half.