CLEMSON, S.C.-Buoyed by 19-0 run with a little over eight minutes remaining in the game, No. 23 Clemson was able to break open what was just a five-point game (56-51) midway through the second half, finally disposing of feisty Western Carolina, 79-57, in front of 8,485 fans Tuesday evening at Littlejohn Coliseum.The Tigers were spurred by Trevor Booker’s season-high of 31 points.
The story of the game for Clemson was its dominance in the paint, as brothers Trevor and Devin Booker combined for 41 points and were able to impose their will down the stretch in the second half, highlighted by several thunderous dunks that electrified the impressive pre-Christmas crowd. Clemson claimed a 42-26 advantage in the ‘points-in-the-paint’ category.
To some surprise, the Catamounts showed little signs of rust as a result of their 10-day lay-off due to exams, especially early in the contest. The 2009 Southern Conference Freshman-of-the-Year Harouna Mutombo helped the Purple and Gold get out of the gates quickly. He scored the first 12 points of the contest for the Catamounts, giving WCU its biggest lead of the night by opening the game with two-straight trifectas to give the visitors a 6-0 advantage early.
Mutombo, who’s the nephew of future NBA Hall-of-Famer Dikembe Mutombo, entered the contest averaging just 8.8 PPG. However, against the 23rd-ranked Tigers, he was able to post a season-high 19 points against the Tigers, connecting on 8-of-12 shots from the field, including knocking down three of his four attempts from downtown.
The Catamounts were able to stay close to the Tigers for much of the opening half of play as a result of their play on the defensive end of the floor, spurred by the play of senior point guard Brigham Waginger.
Waginger, who came into the contest needing just one steal to break WCU Hall-of-Famer Henry Logan’s mark of 221 career thefts, easily accomplished that feat in the first half, recording two of WCU’s six total steals on the evening. Both of his steals came on consecutive possessions for the Tigers, which directly led to baskets for the Catamounts.
Western Carolina looked as if they would gain momentum in the waning minutes of the opening half of play. WCU would knot the game at 26-26, using pin-point passing to break Clemson’s tenacious press, which led to a dunk by Richie Gordon and could have given the Catamounts the momentum.
However, Clemson coverted on a lay-up of their own by Trevor Booker to forge back in front by a deuce, allowing the Tigers to set up their press once again. After a steal by Booker on the ensuing inbounds play, he converted a lay-up and was fouled by Waginger in the process.
He stepped to the line and calmly swished the ensuing charity shot, using 29 ticks off the game clock to mount a mini 5-0 Clemson run and help the Tigers usurp full control of 3:30 of the opening half. In total, the Tigers closed the half with a 16-6 run to take a confident, 11-point (43-32) lead to the locker room.
The Catamounts rebounded to start the second stanza as strongly as they opened the contest, chipping away at the Clemson lead in small increments, eventually closing to within four, at 49-45,on a lay-up with Richie Gordon with 13:36 remainng in the contest.
With Clemson holding a less than comfortable six-point advantage (55-49) with a little over 10 minutes remaining, Gordon was whistled for a foul on Booker, which was his fourth of the contest and subsequently making him a defensive liability for the remainder contest.
With that crucial foul by Gordon, who eventually fouled out with 5:57 remaining, WCU had no answers for the Booker brothers. With an onslaught of close-range, highlight-reel dunks and trips to the charity stripe the front court tandem combined to score 15 of the Tigers’ final 24 points, allowing the Tigers to garner the victory going away.
Trevor Booker was able to connect on 11-of-13 shots from the field, scoring 20 of his 31 points in the paint. He showed his complete package by stepping out and nailing his only triple attempt of the evening with just over 11 minutes remaining. Booker also pulled down a team-high seven rebounds and swatted away four Catamount shots.
Not to be lost in the fray of his brother’s gaudy stat line, Devin Booker added 10 points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting from the field, while also collecting six caroms.
Clemson point guard Demontez Stitt and off-guard Tanner Smith added 10 and 13 points, respectively to round out the Tigers in double figures. Clemson shot a blistering 60.4 percent (29-of-48) for the game, including sizzling the nets at a 65.0 percent clip (13-of-20) in the second half to break open a tight contest midway through the second half. The Tigers claimed a 38-31 advantage on the glass.
Meanwhile, the Catamounts were stifiled by a stingy Tiger defense in the second half, as WCU could only muster a 31.4 percent shooting clip (11-of-35) in the second half, after connecting on a solid 42.9 percent (12-of-28) in the opening half. The Catamounts ended the night connecting on just 36.5 percent (23-of-63) of their shots, ultimately bringing an end to WCU’s nine-game winning streak.
The normally proficient outside shooting Catamounts, were held in check by Clemson, as the Tigers’ stingy perimeter defense limited the Catamounts to just 7-of-30 shooting from long-range (23.3 percent) for the night, including forcing WCU into 10 straight misses from three-point range down the stretch, before a Mutombo triple would bring an end to the drought to set WCU’s final point total for the evening. Senior guard Brandon Giles was the only other Catamount in double digits, adding 12 points.