The start was less than desirable and so was the finish. In between there were some moments of brilliance from SU‚Äôs two-headed monster and a few brief moments of some gutsy down-the-stretch play from a pair of freshmen, but in the end Syracuse‚Äôs five-game winning streak came to a screeching halt with a 71-70 loss to Clemson.
For most of the night, it looked like the game was going to come down to a thrilling finish and after what Tyus Battle did at Littlejohn a few years ago, there was hope that that thrilling finish would wind up in Syracuse‚Äôs favor.
We ended up getting that thrilling finish but some miscommunication, poor execution and a lack of personnel doomed the Orange down the stretch.
The dynamic of the game completely changed with 7:56 left in the second half when Marek Dolezaj was whistled for his fifth and final foul. With how important he‚Äôs been during this five-game winning streak, losing him with almost eight minutes left seemed like a sign of things to come and not in a good way.
At that point, Syracuse led by just one. Less than three minute later with the Orange trailing by three, things went from bad to worse on the interior when Bourama Sidibe picked up his fifth foul and forced a true freshman into a very unfavorable spot.
The Orange scratched and clawed their way back into the lead and was clinging to a 70-69 advantage (thanks in large party to a gutsy 30-foot jumper from Joe Girard) with 1:11 to play when Edwards made what seemed to be the defensive play of the game and poked the ball away from Clemson‚Äôs Aamir Simms and into the waiting arms of Girard. It made up for a turnover that was partially his fault and partially on Quincy Guerrier for being completely unready to catch a pass when he was wide open under the bucket. Clemson took a timeout and gave the Orange a chance to extend their lead.
That‚Äôs when execution started to become a big issue for SU. For the entirety of the game, Elijah Hughes and Buddy Boeheim had dominated for SU and combined for 44 of Syracuse‚Äôs 70 points on the night.
In a pressure situation on the road in a crucial conference game, there‚Äôs no doubt that the ball should have been flowing through one of those two with a chance to take pad the lead. That didn‚Äôt happen and Girard took a circus shot that missed everything. It ended up going off of Clemson and gave SU another shot with one tick left on the shot clock. All the Orange could muster was another circus shot from Hughes (there was a decent amount of contact) and Clemson went on the break where the Orange‚Äôs transition D completely broke down and Clyde Trapp got one of the easiest crunch-time buckets you‚Äôll ever see.
But Syracuse still had a chance. 1.1 seconds to go with a baseline out-of-bounds. Instead of trying to free up Hughes or Boeheim for a running triple, the call was for Girard to fire a football-style pass the length of the floor. The former all-state QB left it short and it trickled out of bounds with less than a second left. On the final play of the game, Hughes made a catch 40 feet from the bucket and left a prayer way short to officially bring the streak to an end.
In the end, this game came down to SU‚Äôs complete inability to contain Clemson‚Äôs Tevin Mack (career-high 32 points on 12-17 shooting), unseasoned freshmen having to play big, crunch-time minutes (Jesse Edwards) and not executing down the stretch.
That last one is the most disheartening because for much of this winning streak, Syracuse‚Äôs strength has been making in-game adjustments and finishing off close games and those skills just weren‚Äôt there in this game.
Now it‚Äôs time to regroup because one of the most talented teams in the ACC is on the horizon. Duke comes to the Dome on Saturday for an 8 p.m. tipoff.