By Justin Mathis
After having a few days off following a loss at North Carolina, the Clemson Tigers turned their attention to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Alumni Weekend. During pregame festivities, a long line of former players were recognized as they walked onto the court at Littlejohn Coliseum. Among the former players who were recognized were Bryan Narcisse, who played for current head coach Brad Brownell, and Tree Rollins, who played 18 seasons in the NBA.
In front of a sellout crowd, the home standing Tigers fed off of their energy during a tooth and nail battle with the Fighting Irish. It came down to the very end, but Clemson was able to hold off a late charge to emerge with a 67-58 victory over Notre Dame.
It only took Clemson 19 seconds to break the seal on the game with an Elijah Thomas layup. A trio of three pointers – one each from Reed, DeVoe, and Grantham – put the Tigers ahead 11-5 just over two and a half minutes into the contest. A layup from DeVoe with 13:39 left in the opening half capped a seven-for-seven start from the field for Clemson and gave them a 19-8 over the Fighting Irish.
“The great start we got off to was helpful,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “It got the crowd into the game and gave our guys a little juice, but as you would expect, Notre Dame battled. They’re hard to play against. They can play a lot of different ways – they can play small, they can play big. They’ve got tough kids and really good guard play. They’re a handful, but our guys just kept battling all day.”
Notre Dame responded with a 14-7 run moments later, which cut the deficit down to 28-26 with a little over two minutes remaining until intermission. That would be as close as the Fighting Irish got in the first 20 minutes, as Clemson took a 33-30 lead into the locker room.
Clemson once again started off fast and extended their lead to 40-32 over four minutes into the second stanza, which led to a timeout from Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey.
Following the stoppage, the Fighting Irish fired off a 15-7 run that pulled them within one, 47-46, with 9:58 to go. During that stretch, Notre Dame point guard Matt Farrell scored his only points of the game on a pair of three pointers.
“Give credit to Clemson,” Brey stated. “I thought they made big shots and big plays in a good game. We kept trying to come back and make it interesting, and we did. I loved our fight. I know Brad’s built it to this year being the year… I just think they are a very confident group that’s pointing toward the NCAA tournament this year. Everybody comes after (Farrell) and really doubles him and takes him away. (Clemson) exhausted him. We’ve got to get him in better shape. We’ve played him on fumes the last two games and he’s given us everything he’s got, but I think he will continue to see double teams, ball screens… that’s where a guy like TJ Gibbs comes in and has done a good job for us handling the ball sometimes.”
Later on, Clemson’s lead ballooned back out to nine points after DeVoe hit a three with 3:19 to go. The Fighting Irish answered with consecutive three pointers – one from Gibbs and the latter from John Mooney – to make it 59-56 with just over two minutes left.
With 1:04 to go in regulation, freshman Aamir Simms stepped up for Clemson by knocking down a corner three to make it a 62-56 game, which helped propel the Tigers to the win.
Four Tigers finished in double figures, led by Gabe DeVoe with 17 points followed by Shelton Mitchell (12), Marcquise Reed (12), and Grantham (11). TJ Gibbs scored a game-high 18 points for Notre Dame, while John Mooney chipped in 13 points off the bench. Martinas Geben also had 10 points.
It wasn’t all good news for the Tigers on this day. With 10:54 left in the game, Grantham went down on a non-contact play while driving to the basket and left the game, while not putting much weight on his leg. It was revealed the next day that he had torn his ACL and is out for the season
Clemson (16-3, 5-2 ACC) will prepare for a two-game road trip, with the first one at Virginia on January 23rd.
Notre Dame (13-7, 3-4 ACC) will have a few days off before hosting Virginia Tech on January 27th.