When Brad Brownell watched Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange break out the press on his Clemson Tigers, the ball flew left to right as the clock ticked away on the time his team had to cross half court. Marcquise Reed tossed a last-ditch heave to get it up the court, but the ball landed in his coach’s hands. Brownell stood with the ball by his side for several moments for emphasis.
One of 17 turnovers — along with seven missed free throws — left the Tigers several lost opportunities from keeping it as close as they otherwise would have. Boeheim believed that a better shooting night would’ve left Syracuse without any worries late during a burst where Reed generated points on four of five possessions late in the second half to pull Clemson within six.
Such was a night where bodies hit the floor, Elijah Thomas fouled out, both teams grew frustrated with the officials and the Orange gritted out their third-best defensive performance in ACC play over the past two seasons (from a points perspective). A Shelton Mitchell layup with 20 seconds left and the game out of hand propelled Clemson above the 51 points Notre Dame scored in the Carrier Dome last year — somehow in a (very ugly) win. The Tigers scored 52 at the Dome in March.
Here’s three takeaways from the Orange’s 61-53 win that led to a 2-0 start in ACC play.
Defense can adjust to physically imposing centers
Less than 40 seconds into the first half, Marek Dolezaj slid in the way of Clemson’s Thomas and drew a charge — tagging him with an early offensive foul a night where he’d leave the game with 1:10 remaining.
“I knew he would do something like that,” Dolezaj said. “I just tried to be smart.”
Thomas bothered the Orange, attempting 10 free throws while sporadically getting involved in Clemson’s offense and grabbing seven rebounds. A 6-foot-9, 245-pound opponent posed a matchup issue for 180-pound Dolezaj, but Syracuse held him to six shot attempts. He helped SU out by missing five of his 10 free throw attempts.
Oshae Brissett tagged him with his second foul late in the first half attacking the basket. Bourama Sidibe grabbed an offensive rebound in front of him while the two pummeled to the floor in the perfect depiction of the game’s style for Thomas’s third. Sidibe also drew the fourth, drawing an offensive foul to send Thomas to the bench with 8:55 remaining.
“You want to get in front of him as much as you can,” Boeheim said. “You don’t want him to catch you down low. They got in the high post and we did a good job of not letting him get it down. They did hit a couple in the high post area ... those are twos, it’s better than threes.”
Sidibe said that the Orange had to use their quickness to cut Thomas off from breaking into the low post. Thomas later returned and fouled out with the game out of reach, but missed a key three-minute stretch where Clemson only generated six points before Reed lit on fire with six minutes remaining.
“He’s huge,” Dolezaj said. “It was really hard.”
Bourama Sidibe emerges
Boeheim didn’t elaborate on Paschal Chukwu’s absence from the win on Wednesday — beyond that he is not injured — but he got the best performance of Sidibe’s season with four points, four rebounds and three blocks to pair with his two fouls drawn on Thomas.
“I think he’s moving better,” Boeheim said. “He’s playing like he was even when he was hurt, last year when he played, he played quick, using his quickness, moving, spinning inside, going after the ball, blocking shots. That’s what he can do. And that’s what we saw early last year. We haven’t seen it this year. It’s been a little bit better in practice. But I don’t know whether it’s taken him a long time to get used to being there healthy.”
Sidibe twice ran from behind while Clemson attacked the basket in transition, once following Dolezaj’s block on Mitchell with one of his own on David Skara’s put-back attempt in simultaneous motions on both sides of the basket. He also blocked another put-back attempt by Skara later, then got out to reject a jump shot attempt by Reed in the second half.
He fell to the floor several times, leaped for rebounds and displayed athleticism that he’s struggled to regain in his return from chronic knee pain that has plagued him going back into last season. His 16 minutes were his third highest total of this season, following his six rebounds in 15 minutes against Notre Dame.
“Physically I’m getting there,” Sidibe said. “Laterally, I can move, it’s just when I’m stuck in the same place trying to explode from the ground.”
Progress for Frank Howard, inconsistency for Oshae Brissett
Howard hit 4-of-8, including a three and deep two, to contribute 12 points to the victory — marking his second highest point total to his 13 against Buffalo and his most efficient shooting night of the season. His previous best was 2-for-5 against Georgetown.
“A little bit better,” Boeheim said, evaluating Howard’s shot. “I think it’s much closer. I think he’s getting there, I really do.”
Brissett struggled outside, shooting 0-for-4 from three to fall to 28.1 percent on the season. He did convert on a driving baseline cut for a dunk and bodied his way inside with 2:39 left to hit a crucial jumper from about 10 feet with 2:39 remaining and Clemson closing in at 56-50. He also lost two balls early as part of a five turnover night with Clemson’s guards hawking his dribbles around the high post.