CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) – Clemson coach Brad Brownell told Tevin Mack last spring he’d be a primary player this season for the Tigers.
“I told him that four years ago when I recruited him,” Brownell said. “But it wasn’t as appealing.”
It sure made sense to Mack these days.
Mack, the grad transfer who had stops at Texas and Alabama before joining the Tigers for his final season, had a career-high 32 points as Clemson came back from 10-points down in the second half to defeat Syracuse 71-70 on Tuesday night.
Mack had 23 points in the second half and 21 of Clemson’s final 30, most from about 8-to-10 feet away in the middle of Syracuse’s vaunted two-three zone.
Mack also had a game-high 10 rebounds and surpassed his previous best of 27 set for the Longhorns against Oklahoma State in January 2014.
“That’s something that I always had in my game,” he said. “I just wanted to bring that out and show people I could do that.”
Clyde Trapp had a game-winning layup off a perfect pass from Khavon Moore with 2.5 seconds left.
Syracuse had a final try at a three with less than a second left, but Elijah Hughes’ long shot was way off.
Trapp finished with 17 points for the Tigers (11-9, 5-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), who came from eight points behind Wake Forest in the second half of their last home game.
Joseph Girard III looked like he had pulled things out for the Orange with a 3-pointer to put his team up 70-67 with 1:35 to play. Then Girard stole the ball from Clemson’s leading scorer Aamir Simms with 40 seconds left and Syracuse still ahead 70-69.
Hughes and Buddy Boeheim had 22 points each to lead Syracuse (13-8 6-4).
Clemson fought back from 10-points down and took a 62-59 lead on Trapp’s three-point play with 5:07 left.
But Boeheim and Hughes combined for six straight points before Girard struck for his long-range shot to put Syracuse up, 70-67, and set up the drama-filled finish.
“Clemson’s a good defensive team and it’s not that easy to play against them,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.
Clemson did early what opponents must do to beat the Orange’s long-run, two-three zone defense — make outside shots.
The Tigers hit four of their first five attempts on the way to building a 15-6 lead on Syracuse the first minutes.
But then Hughes and Boeheim took over as the Orange closed the half by outscoring Clemson 29-18.
Hughes, the ACC’s leading scorer, had 15 points in the period and Boeheim, the league leader in made 3-pointers, closed the half with a pair of long-range jumpers in the final 80 seconds — both which regained the lead the Syracuse.
The Orange started the second half on a 10-2 run — Hughes and Boeheim combined for the first eight points in the stretch — and it seemed like Syracuse had a clear path to victory before Clemson’s rally.
Syracuse: The Orange were hurt by foul trouble to starters Marek Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibe, who both fouled out down the stretch. Their absence gave Clemson more room to operate down low.
Clemson: There’s no figuring out the Tigers, who followed a 1-5 December by going 5-2 in January. This month, Clemson won at North Carolina for the first time ever, defeated No. 9 Duke and had second-half rallies to top Wake Forest and the Orange.
TAKING IT EASY?
Clemson’s Brownell was disappointed with Saturday’s 80-62 loss to No. 6 Louisville, feeling the Tigers were sloppy and not playing with the effort he usually sees. Brownell, against his instincts, only held one grueling practice instead of two and the decision paid off. Brownell thought his players were locked in since the weekend and focused on the Orange.
Simms continued to struggle with just two points on 1-of-4 shooting. He has combined for just 13 points total in the Tigers’ past three games. Clemson coach Brad Brownell said the team needs more scoring from Simms, but the 6-foot-9 junior impacts the team in several other ways.
Syracuse starts a three-game home stand against Duke on Saturday.
Clemson plays at Wake Forest on Saturday night.