Grant fills in at center for injured Keita in Syracuse win

first_img Published on February 9, 2014 at 11:02 pm Contact Stephen: [email protected] | @Stephen_Bailey1 On Jerami Grant’s first possession playing center since middle school, he was late in defending a pass. On his second, 260-pound Josh Smith backed him down for an easy layup.Clemson, which trailed by 12 at the 15-minute mark, pulled within five of No. 1 Syracuse with 10:46 to play. Grant, forced into big-man duty due to injury and foul trouble, had to adjust quickly in the middle of the Orange’s 2-3 zone.“I’m not really used to the position,” Grant said, “but at the same time I’ve got to get used to it.”Grant held his own following the early lapses in Syracuse’s (23-0, 10-0 Atlantic Coast) 57-44 win over the Tigers (15-7, 6-4) on Sunday night in the Carrier Dome. But six weeks after DaJuan Coleman suffered a season-ending knee injury, it has finally come back to bite the Orange.With senior center Baye Moussa Keita sidelined due to a sprained right knee and junior forward Rakeem Christmas on the bench with four personal fouls, the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Grant was forced to man the middle of the 2-3 zone for nearly nine minutes of the second half. He struggled to box out and was bullied by the larger Smith at times during the Orange win.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textBut with Keita listed as day-to-day and a Pittsburgh frontcourt featuring Talib Zanna looming on Wednesday, the experience may help Grant if he needs to become more than just an emergency option.“He’s practiced in there a couple times this year,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “He’s pretty long in there. I think we can get by with him in there.”Grant finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, but grabbed only one board after halftime despite playing 19 of the 20 minutes. The defensive rebounds and outlet passes he produced helped the Orange finish the half on a 9-0 run. Teammates agreed with Grant in the middle, the Orange will need to utilize a group approach to defensive rebounding. Trevor Cooney said he and Tyler Ennis will need to help crash and pick up tipped boards.But the biggest part of the adjustment may need to come from Grant himself. He said rebounding out of the center spot was the most difficult aspect of adjusting.“You don’t know where anybody’s coming from,” Grant said. “You’ve just kind of got to jump and go get it.”When the players learned Keita would not be playing in the second half at halftime, Christmas spoke with Grant about playing in the middle of the zone.He told his locker room neighbor that he couldn’t get caught in the post, and if he did, his only chance at recovery would be to slip around the post man.“He saw what it’s like to play down there,” Christmas said. “He did his thing and had a good game.”As Grant settled into the heart of the zone, so too did Syracuse against Clemson. Fair and Grant combined to push the lead to 50-40 at the 4:45 mark, when Christmas came back in.Until that point, freshman forward Tyler Roberson and junior guard Michael Gbinije had been filling in for Grant at the wing.“We’ve had situations where we’ve played small in past years and we’ve actually had real good success with that,” Boeheim said. “That’s not going to hurt us at that stage of the game, as much as somebody making 3s is going to hurt you.”In the locker room after the game, Grant couldn’t even make it to his seat before being swarmed by media.As he answered the umpteenth question about playing a position he clearly hadn’t worked at in years, Keita shuffled by midway through the interview, appearing to favor his left leg slightly.At 23-0, Syracuse may finally have a legitimate chink in its armor. And if it does, Grant’s likely the only player capable of fixing it.Said Grant: “I wasn’t used to the size, but at the same time you’ve got to adjust in certain situations. I think that’s what makes us a great team.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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