CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Donte Grantham got off to a shaky start for Clemson. He soon settled down, though, to bring the Tigers one of their biggest wins of the season.
After Grantham’s first two 3-pointers were way off the mark, Tigers coach Brad Brownell brought him over to the bench and asked, ”Are you a little excited today?”
The usually laid-back freshman calmed down, hitting four long-range baskets among his career-high 16 points to lead Clemson to a 66-53 victory over Syracuse on Saturday. The Tigers ended the Orange’s perfect ACC start and seven-game win streak.
The 6-foot-8 Grantham is a capable three-point shooter who has struggled at times with his shot, hitting only 25 percent of those attempts this season. But he found his stroke early as Clemson (10-7, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) built a large, first-half lead and never let it fall below double figures the rest of the way.
”Those first two shots, I was too excited out there to be home,” Grantham said. ”The next one came to me and I just took my time, followed through and knocked it down.”
Clemson did a lot of that in the opening period. The usually slow shooting Tigers hit 16 of 30 shots to lead 39-18 at the break.
Meanwhile, Syracuse (13-5, 4-1) missed almost everything it put up in the period. Center Rakeem Christmas made five of seven shots while his teammates combined for an ice cold 2 of 21. The frigid spell continued into the second half as Trevor Cooney, a 14.5-point a game scorer, was held to five foul shots and missed all seven of his shots.
”We’ve seen that movie,” Brownell said of Syracuse’s poor stretch. ”The longer you go without a make, the harder it gets.”
Christmas led Syracuse with 21 points and 10 rebounds, his sixth double-double this season.
Orange coach Jim Boeheim said the game got away from his players in that first half.
”If we could’ve made a couple of more shots, kept it somewhere within range, I thought we’d play better in the second half,” he said.
Syracuse cut a 22-point lead down to 60-48 with two minutes left on Christmas’ basket. But Rod Hall hit a pair of foul shots to help the Tigers hold on.
Hall had 15 points and Jaron Blossomgame had 15 and 12 rebounds for Clemson.
It was the Tigers rebounding and outside shooting that took control in the opening half. Clemson was up 10-4 less than four minutes in, 18-8 less than 10 minutes in and 27-11 with fewer than five minutes remaining in the half.
Boeheim called several time outs to settle his players down. Little worked, however, as Clemson shot better than 50 percent in the half. Hall led the way, hitting all four of his shots including a pair from behind the arc.
When Jordan Roper hit an uncontested 3-pointer with six seconds left, the Tigers went to the locker room ahead 39-18.
Syracuse matched its worst half, points-wise, of the season. It scored 18 in the second half of a 46-45 win at Georgia Tech on Jan. 7.
Syracuse: The Orange hadn’t been to Clemson since the 2007 NIT quarterfinals when they lost 74-70 after Josh Wright’s attempt to tie the game at 73-all with time winding down missed. K.C. Rivers scored 29 for the Tigers.
Clemson: The Tigers have outrebounded their past three opponents (Louisville, Pittsburgh, Virginia) and did the same to Syracuse, leading on the boards 40-30.
It was Syracuse’s second game since losing 6-foot-10 freshman Chris McCullough to an ACL tear against Florida State this month. McCullough had been averaging 9.3 points and 6.9 rebounds. Boeheim said the freshman’s absence is going to hurt the Orange all year.
While some saw Clemson’s five-game opening ACC stretch as a brutal test – No. 15 North Carolina, No. 6 Louisville, Pittsburgh, No. 2 Virginia and Syracuse – Tigers coach Brad Brownell said things won’t get any easier with Monday night’s home game against Florida State. The Seminoles won here last year and Brownell worries his players will want to continue celebrating when they must quickly turn around to prep for another game.
Syracuse returns home to face former Big East rival Boston College on Tuesday night.
Clemson is home against Florida State on Monday night.