Clemson's defense made its offense look good.
After playing tit-for-tat with South Carolina State for the first 11 minutes, the Tiger men's basketball team asserted its best shut-down defense, held the Bulldogs to just one field goal over the final nine minutes of the first half, and soared to a 36-18 halftime lead.
At that point, it was game-set-match for the Tigers, who impressively bounced back from their 23-point loss to Coastal Carolina on Wednesday by dominating S.C. State 77-41 Sunday afternoon at Littlejohn Coliseum.
It was a string of ESPN Top 10-worthy dunks, including a pair from high-flying sophomore K.J. McDaniels, that excited a small, but vocal holiday weekend crowd. But it was Clemson's relentless, high-energy defense that turned the game decisively in the Tigers' favor.
It took an unscheduled timeout from an obviously perturbed Brad Brownell to change the flow of the game, after Clemson had traded early baskets with the Bulldogs and trailed 13-10 prior to the under-12 media timeout.
At one point, Brownell pulled four of five starters off the floor, leaving only McDaniels in the game. Minutes later, he put the starters back in, with impressive results.
S.C. State's last lead, 16-15, came at the nine-minute mark of the first half. Damarcus Harrison answered a Bulldog basket with a three-pointer, and, after an S.C. turnover, Milton Jennings scored on a short hook off a feed from Adonis Filer. Another S.C. State turnover resulted in a spectacular behind-the-head dunk by McDaniels, and the Tigers capped a 12-0, two-minute run with a three-pointer by Filer and a Jennings layup off a pass from McDaniel.
The Tigers weren't finished. Filer's three-point play put Clemson ahead 30-16 with 4:07 left in the half, and Rod Hall then banked in a runner to finish off a 17-0 Clemson run.
The Tigers stretched their halftime lead to 18, 36-18, when Hall hit McDaniels with a pin-point 50-foot pass for an ally-oop dunk.
Clemson picked up where it left off in the second half, outscoring the Bulldogs 23-11 and stretching the run to 44-13 and the lead to 30, 59-29, at the midway point of the second period.
Clemson's defensive effort included a shutout of S.C. State's leading scoring, Khalif Toombs, who came into the contest averaging 13 points a game.
All 11 Clemson players scored in the game, capped by a last-minute free throw by Carson Fields.
With the victory, Clemson improved its record to 7-4. The loss was the eighth straight for the Bulldogs.
With the game in hand, Brownell used the second half to experiment with his team.
"I really thought our starters did a good job in coming out and playing the first four minutes of the second half in the right way," said Brownell. "We tried to play faster and get out and push and go. And at the same time, we were reasonably patient.
"They went back and forth between man and zone, so we got to look at a bunch of different things."
The Tigers registered 22 assists on their 30 baskets - a high under Brownell - and turned the ball over just nine times.
Harrison led the Tigers with 15 points - a career high that surpassed his 12-point total last season for BYU against Iona. He was one of four Clemson players in double figures, joined by Jennings with 15, Devin Booker with 11 and McDaniels with 11.
"Obviously, we shared the ball," Brownell said. "And we took care of it. We had a nice mix. We got the ball inside some, and we made a few threes and just did some nice things in the game. Our defense was better tonight, and now we need some time off. Our guys have been going at it pretty hard here."
The Tigers will have an eight-day break before playing The Citadel at 4 p.m. on New Year's Day at Littlejohn Coliseum.