CLEMSON – A team that was supposed to be a millstone bogging down Clemson’s basketball reputation instead reached another milestone on Tuesday at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Playing excellent defense and making the most of their shots, the Tigers became just the fourth team in the program’s history to win 10 ACC games in a 58-54 victory over Miami in front of 7,071 fans.
It was another grinding defensive effort that came down to the final few possessions. But even at the end when Clemson had trouble making free throws, the team picked to finish 14th in the league managed to snatch rebounds off of misses and keep the ball out of the Hurricanes’ hands.
Rod Hall led the way with 14 points and six assists, K.J. McDaniels had 12 points and nine rebounds and Damarcus Harrison scored 12 points in a game that put Clemson at 19-10 overall and 10-7 in the league.
It was Harrison’s fifth consecutive double-digit effort.
“It feels good to get the win,” Hall said. “We came out and tried to get some momentum going. We wanted to keep our pace good the whole game and we did.”
The Tigers won the rebounding battle, 31-23.
“I thought Clemson played a very solid game and our guys did a solid job,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “But when there was a rebound both teams needed, they got it. They beat us on the 50-50 balls. It’s not like they killed us on the boards, but they got the critical ones.”
Rion Brown led Miami (15-15, 6-11) and all scorers with 21 points while Erik Swoope scored 14.
Yet while Miami entered the game as one of the nation’s top glass-cleaning clubs, the Tigers were up to the challenge.
Sophomore center Landry Nnoko, who had six boards, said his team knew what to expect from the ‘Canes.
“Coach told us to go out and focus on our game,” he said. “We knew they were like the seventh best rebounding team in the country but we just went out and tried to compete.”
Clemson pulled out to a 49-40 lead with 5:33 left and never allowed Miami to get closer than four the rest of the way. When it was over the Tigers shot 47.7 percent to 50 percent for the Hurricanes.
The victors had just nine turnovers and Larranaga’s crew only five.
Tiger boss Brad Brownell was especially proud of how his team managed to solve a variety of different defensive looks throughout the night.
“We did a better job guarding them in the second half,” Brownell said. “They hit us with a little bit of everything, box in one, triangle in two, man to man, zone.”
Both teams were judicious with their shooting in the first half but shot the ball well, with Clemson netting an even 50 percent of their attempts (11 of 22) while Miami was good on 52 percent.
Behind solid inside play from Swoope and outside help from Garrius Adams, the Hurricanes got a little separation and at 11:28 Davon Reed bagged a three to hand the visitors a 19-12 lead.
The Tigers made a run of their own, however, going on a 9-0 surge thanks to scoring from McDaniels, Harrison and Hall. Clemson actually pulled ahead 21-19 before the U tied things back up, and at halftime the score was knotted at 27-all, with the foes matching each other evenly in both points and effort.
It was more of the same over the final 20 minutes, except the Tigers had a bit more at the finish.
“I’m really proud of our team and what they’ve been able to accomplish,” Brownell said. “It says something about the character of our team. (Now) there’s more of a belief than you can win the game. You play to win instead of just hoping to win.”