SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Overtime, crunch time, anytime.
So far, top-ranked Syracuse has found a way to win every game this season.
”This team just does not seem to be bothered when something doesn’t go in, or if (the other team) makes a 3 to start overtime,” coach Jim Boeheim said. ”It just doesn’t seem to bother them. They just come back and make the play.”
Syracuse (22-0, 9-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won eight games by single digits and is off to the best start in school history. The Orange also have extended Boeheim’s NCAA record of 20-win seasons to 36 in 38 seasons at his alma mater.
Another win would tie the program mark for consecutive wins, established in the 1916-17 and 1917-18 seasons.
After a difficult three-game stretch in six days, Syracuse will have had nearly six days off to prepare for Clemson (15-6, 6-3) on Sunday night in the Carrier Dome.
It will be the third meeting between the teams and first in Syracuse, and the Orange have yet to beat the Tigers.
Clemson defeated Syracuse 78-67 to open the 1960-61 season and also won an NIT matchup 74-70 in 2007 at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Another game, another team looking to knock the Orange from the lonely ranks of the unbeaten.
Only Syracuse and Wichita State (24-0) were left entering the weekend, with the fourth-ranked Shockers playing at Northern Iowa on Saturday.
”Coach let us know that right now it means really nothing (to be No. 1),” freshman point guard Tyler Ennis said. ”We have to play our best ball at the end of the season. Whether we’re ranked or not, it really doesn’t matter to us.”
Clemson enters the game leading Division I in scoring defense, yielding an average of 55 points per game. The Tigers also rank eighth in field goal percentage defense (.378) and 12th in blocked shot average (6.1).
”We play a different style of defense and I think we can knock them off stride a bit,” Clemson point guard Rod Hall said. ”But they’re the number one team for a reason, and we’re going to have to be at our best.”
Clemson has won two straight and is in the midst of five out of six games on the road. The Tigers lost at Pittsburgh 76-43, lost at North Carolina 80-61, then won at Florida State 53-49 before returning home to beat injury-riddled Georgia Tech 45-41 on Tuesday night.
”I think the past two games we won were very important,” Hall said. ”We were coming off a two-game losing streak and that gave us back some momentum that we can take into the next game.”
The Tigers are led by K.J. McDaniels, who’s averaging 16.3 points, seven rebounds, and 2.6 blocks, but he struggled against Georgia Tech, finishing with eight points on 3-of-14 shooting.
”I want our guys to play confident,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. ”If you feel a good shot, shoot it if you have an opportunity.”
That’s pretty much what Orange shooting guard Trevor Cooney did on Monday night against Notre Dame as Syracuse held off the Irish 61-55 two days after an emotional 91-89 overtime victory over No. 17 Duke.
Cooney scored a career-high 33 points and matched a program record with nine 3-pointers, rescuing his struggling teammates as Syracuse extended its school record for wins to start a season.
”We just have to be ready to play every day,” said Cooney, who is 11 of 14 from behind the arc in the past two games. ”But being No. 1 says a lot about our players, our coaches, and our program.”
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in South Carolina contributed to this report.
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