CLEMSON — When you struggle to find offense as much as Clemson does, digging yourself a big hole is not exactly advisable.
A young roster found that out the hard way here Wednesday night.
Poor Clemson defense and languid offense helped Purdue build a 20-point halftime lead, and the Boilermakers withstood several second-half charges for an 73-61 win in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Purdue improved to 3-3 on the season, while Clemson fell to 4-2.
“We carried mistakes with us, we were playing like tonight was not our night,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “That’s inexcusable. Young kids fall into pity parties when things are not going well. We’ve got to make it go well. We couldn’t get over the hump tonight.”
The Tigers played without senior forward Milton Jennings – the team’s leading scorer – who watched from the bench in street clothes following an early-Wednesday arrest for marijuana possession at his on-campus apartment. It marks his third suspension in 13 months.
Asked what Jennings’ status for Sunday’s game with South Carolina and on the team going forward, Brownell replied twice, “I don’t know.”
“I’m going to evaluate (his status) throughout the week and come to a decision on what I think is best, what I want to do,” Brownell said.
The Boilermakers were led by senior guard D.J. Byrd, who scored 22 points while nailing six of 11 3-pointers (scoring only two points after halftime). Clemson made only four of 23 3-pointers.
Senior forward Devin Booker scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds; sophomore swingman K.J. McDaniels scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Booker spent the past two days with his grandfather, who is on life support following a heart attack. He didn’t arrive until about an hour before the game, with his status “touch and go.”
“It was definitely a tough day,” Booker said. “I didn’t have too much time to prepare, scouting, so jumping into this game was difficult.”
Booker said he was “disappointed” in Jennings’ actions.
“I’m definitely disappointed. He is a grown man and I can’t tell him what to do,” Booker said. “He makes his own decisions, but I’m definitely disappointed in him, and hopefully he will learn from his mistake and come back strong.”
Clemson trailed 42-22 at halftime following its worst half of the young season. The Tigers shot 43.5 percent from the field, but were outrebounded 22-6 by a bigger, stronger Purdue team. The Boilermakers outscored Clemson 14-8 in the paint and 7-0 in second-chance points.
“We were getting outplayed,” Brownell said. “Teams make those kinds of shots, it energizes them as the road team – it gave Purdue tremendous amounts of confidence. We were a step slow. We didn’t get loose balls or rebounds and were a little out of whack, played small lineups. Those are things they jumped on. We were not clean.”
Byrd was nearly unstoppable, scoring 20 points and nailing six of nine 3-pointers.
After the sixth, off-balance 3-pointer fell, he let out a maniacal cackle as he ran back up court.
He entered as a career 36.4-percent 3-point shooter, but averaged just under two per game this season.
Clemson held an early 5-2 lead, but an 11-0 run keyed by a trio of Byrd 3-pointers put the Boilers in the lead for good.
Another Byrd 3 pushed the lead to 23-9 with 10:03 left in the half, and Brownell wanted timeout.
An 8-2 run capped by a McDaniels steal-and-slam cut the lead to 25-17, and Littlejohn suddenly found its voice.
Just as quickly, Purdue ripped off an 8-0 run keyed by Terone Johnson’s 3-point play, and Clemson trailed by 16 points with 5:20 left in the half.
“I thought we had great energy in warm-ups,” McDaniels said, “but we have to learn from this.”
Clemson opened the second half strong.
A pair of turnovers, the second punctuated by a McDaniels steal and slam, cut the margin to 45-31, and Purdue coach Matt Painter needed a timeout to calm his team. He went to a smaller lineup with four guards and “decision-makers,” as he put it.
The Boilers responded with a run that pushed the lead right back to 18 points with 14 minutes to play.
Clemson kept chipping away with solid, trapping defense and improved inside play, cutting the lead to 55-41 with 11:03 to play. Poor free throw shooting kept the lead in double digits at 59-47 with 6:58 to play; during one stretch, the Tigers made just three of eight from the charity stripe.
“We were very fortunate they missed them in that stretch,” Painter said.
The Tigers had the ball coming out of an official timeout, and a chance to cut into the lead.
But Sapp missed a 3-pointer from the left wing, and Terone Johnson followed with a jumper at the other end. This time. Damarcus Harrison missed a 3 from the right wing, and Anthony Johnson put a loose ball up and in to push the lead back to 16 with 5:20 to play.
Clemson didn’t cut the lead under 12 until Adonis Filer’s banked-in 3-pointer with 1:20 to play.
“Most rats fight harder when they’re in a corner. They’re expected to do that,” Brownell said. “The pressure shifts to the opponent. We did play harder. We just didn’t do enough things at a high level to come close to turning it.”