The Clemson men’s basketball team came into last week knowing they had some work to do if they wanted to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers took a big step in the right direction by taking down Georgia Tech and Boston College in a span of four days.
Clemson started off the two-game stretch last Saturday with a road game at Georgia Tech in the “Thriller Dome.” The game started out with the Tigers digging themselves a deep hole early, something that has become a common theme this season. The Yellow Jackets came out hot and surged to a 19-8 lead fueled by six points from Mfon Udofia. Clemson responded with a 22-0 run that began with a Jerai Grant jumper and ended with a Tanner Smith free throw. Grant had 10 points during the stretch, and Andre Young chipped in with six points to put Clemson up 30-19. The teams traded baskets in the last few minutes of the half, which ended with Clemson leading 33-25.
Georgia Tech came out of the locker room ready to play, and star guard Iman Shumpert had six quick points to start the half. A Glen Rice, Jr. free throw finished off a 16-7 run for the Yellow Jackets, which gave them the lead at 41-40. Clemson answered with a quick six-point spurt that saw them regain a lead they would not relinquish. The Tigers were solid down the stretch, going 8-for-9 on free throws in the last few minutes to secure the victory 65-56.
Shumpert led Georgia Tech with 17 points and eight rebounds. The Yellow Jackets shot 41 percent from the field and only 13 percent from beyond the arc. Grant led Clemson with 20 points and seven rebounds. Demontez Stitt added 16 points and Young chipped in 14 points of his own, including four 3-pointers. The win over Georgia Tech was the first road conference win of the season for the Tigers.
“I’m glad we were able to finally get this next thing done,” head coach Brad Brownell said. “We needed to prove that we were good enough to do this. We have two seniors that are good players that should enable us to compete on the road, and we have, but it’s good to put it behind us; we’ve got a lot more work to do, though.”
Next up for the Tigers was Boston College on Tuesday night. Clemson went away from its norm to start the game and came out on a 10-3 run. However, the Eagles answered back with a 17-5 run keyed by two Corey Raji 3-pointers to take a 20-15 lead. Andre Young, who didn’t start the game because of being late to a team walk-through, gave the Tigers a spark late in the half, helping them take a lead into the locker room.
Young hit a 3-pointer, and then a minute later got a steal, dribbled behind his back and dropped off a sweet no-look pass to Tanner Smith for a dunk on the fast break.
Young then closed the half by running an old-school pick-and-roll with Jerai Grant, who sliced down the lane after receiving the pass and threw down a two-handed jam.
Clemson came out hot to start the second half and began with a 20-7 run fueled by seven points from Grant and 3-pointers from Young and Bryan “B-Nice” Narcisse. The teams traded baskets for a few minutes until Demontez Stitt hit a trey to extend the lead to 59-42, and the Tigers looked poised to rout Boston College with 8:22 remaining in the game.
However, the veteran Eagles squad would not go away, and behind 3-pointers from Reggie Jackson and Biko Paris and a three-point play from Joe Trapani, they trimmed the Clemson lead to 59-54 with less than five minutes to play. But Smith got a quick layup off a turnover and Young hit a short jumper to put the Tigers back in the driver’s seat, and they held on to win 77-69.
Jackson led Boston College with 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Trapani did his part for the Eagles as well, scoring 22 points and grabbing eight boards. Grant, who scored 17 points, pulled down five rebounds and had three blocks, led Clemson once again. Stitt did his part with 16 points, five boards and four assists. Young also helped out with 15 points and five assists. Stitt and Young took over in the second half, scoring 26 of their combined 31 points in the period.
“We played our best game of the year,” Coach Brownell said of the win. “We played a good opponent that was playing really well. I am pleased with the way our guys approached this. There were not too many bad spots. For the most part, we played pretty good basketball tonight.” The Tigers have now won four out of five games and sit at 17-7 overall and 6-4 in ACC play.
Clemson takes the court again on Saturday when it hosts the No. 21 North Carolina Tar Heels. The game is set to tip at 1 p.m. in Littlejohn Coliseum and will be televised on Raycom Sports.