By Justin Mathis
CLEMSON, SC – After dropping a one-point decision on the road against North Carolina State on Thursday night and arriving back on campus in the early hours of Friday morning, many wondered how the Clemson Tigers would respond in their next game – less than 48 hours away – versus the Miami Hurricanes.
An added energy boost from the students (their first home game since returning from Christmas break), along with some solid defense and a pair of strong performances offensively, helped propel the home standing Tigers to a 72-63 victory over the visiting Hurricanes. The win marks the 11th win in the last 12 games for Clemson.
In the first half, it was a back and forth contest, as neither club could create much separation until Miami built a 22-15 lead at the 10:33 mark of the opening frame. Not long after that, Brad Brownell took off his jacket and tossed it aside around the midway point of the period. In turn, the Tigers went on a 12-3 run to take a 27-25 lead with 5:55 left before intermission. Clemson took a 34-30 lead into the halftime break.
“(It was a) fantastic finish by our guys today,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “(We) showed a lot of heart and toughness and grit in this game. I thought we were battling a little bit of mental and physical fatigue at times. I was a little more animated tonight than I’ve been with them and got after them a few times because I did feel like we had some mental mistakes that we haven’t made as much this year… I wanted (the team) to see their coach with energy and passion. If I’m expecting that of them, they don’t need to see me sitting down and just being calm. They need to know that we’re all fighting (together as a team).”
Throughout the second stanza, the Hurricanes and Tigers continued to scratch and claw for any kind of breathing room. Clemson built a seven point advantage of their own, 42-35, at the 17:54 mark, but then endured a scoring drought that spanned six minutes and 55 seconds, which allowed Miami to pull even at 42.
Both teams fought to a 44-all deadlock, the fifth tie of the contest, with 12:02 to go, but then Mark Donnal provided a spark offensively by knocking down a pair of three pointers in consecutive possessions to put the Tigers ahead for good by six with less than ten minutes left in regulation.
“I was able to get in good position and my teammates were able to find me for those two three’s to knock them down and put us up when we needed it,” Donnal explained. “It’s something that I do in practice all the time and all the guys know I can shoot, that I have the capability to do that (on) any given day, so it’s about my teammates finding me and being in the right position at the right time and shooting it.”
Miami shrunk the deficit down to two points twice during the last four minutes of the game, but the Tigers put the game away with back-to-back threes from Shelton Mitchell and Donte Grantham on consecutive possessions. The Tigers knocked down five of their last seven shots, including three in a row, to close out the game.
“Wow – they’re a really good shooting team,” Miami head coach Jim Larranaga admitted. “(Clemson) shot 57 percent from three (and) they scored 36 points on 21 shots (from distance) – that’s going to win a lot of games. I thought our guys hung pretty tough. We didn’t shoot the ball very well – 38 percent and 26 percent from three – and still in the game with less than five minutes to go. I’m pretty proud of our guys, but I was very impressed with Clemson.”
Donte Grantham led the way for Clemson with a game-high 18 points, featuring a perfect 4-for-4 slate from distance, and six rebounds, while Mark Donnal scored 12 points off the bench, including a 3-for-5 mark from the arc. Also finishing in double figures for the Tigers were Marcquise Reed with 16 points and Shelton Mitchell with 11.
Saturday’s victory also gave Brad Brownell his 139th as the Tigers’ basketball coach, moving him past Oliver Purnell for third place on the all-time wins list.
Miami was led by Lonnie Walker IV and Anthony Lawrence II, who each tallied a team-high 16 points. Chris Lykes and Dewan Huell chipped in 13 and 10 points, respectively, for the Hurricanes.
“(With) this team, we have grit,” Clemson’s Grantham exclaimed. “We keep fighting (and) we compete for 40 (minutes) every game. No matter what, we’re going to keep fighting and sometimes, we’re going to take punches, but we’ve just got to get up and keep fighting. Tonight, we got up and kept fighting.”
Clemson (15-2, 4-1 ACC) will now prepare for another ACC clash on Tuesday, January 16th at 7 PM, when they take on the defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.
Miami (13-3, 2-2 ACC) will face a quick turnaround as they host the Duke Blue Devils at 7 PM on Monday, January 15th.