CLEMSON – Before Tuesday’s National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal matchup between Clemson and Belmont at Littlejohn Coliseum, thousands of fans in the capacity crowd began screaming, “One More Year!” to K. J. McDaniels. The junior wing was honored for scoring his 1,000th point in Sunday’s win over Illinois and the faithful wanted to make sure he knew they wanted him back.
Tigers going to Big Apple
Clemson to play next Tuesday
McDaniels may or may not give Solid Orange Nation one more year, but he and his teammates will at least give them one more game this season.
Clemson earned a trip to New York and the NIT semifinals with a 73-68 victory over the Bruins, putting the Tigers back in Madison Square Garden for the first time since 2007.
The win puts Brad Brownell and company at 23-12 and marks the first time in school history the team has won six games in March.
The Bruins, regular season champions of the Ohio Valley Conference, finish up at 26-10.
And they gave Clemson all it could handle.
Winning the rebounding battle 41-23 with 18 offensive rebounds to eight for the home team, Belmont led with under three minutes to go.
But after the teams had spent much of the period swapping baskets, the Clemson defense made key stops and finished off the Bruins at the free throw line.
“The last 14 possessions they scored 10 points, which is outstanding defense against them,” Brownell said. “We locked in and I think we scored on our last five possessions.”
When it was over, the fans starting pleading with McDaniels again.
“It was emotional,” said McDaniels, who joined Damarcus Harrison to lead Clemson scorers with 16 points. “It felt great. But I was just focusing on the task and hand and what we needed to do.”
They needed to find an answer for a team that hit 12 3-pointers, tied for most in Brownell the Brownell era.
“We knew their guys averaged shooting 40 percent,” Harrison said. “We were just thinking we need to stop their scoring and we finally did.”
Belmont ended up shooting 38 percent for the game but the Tigers were good for 48 percent in both halves.
And while the Bruins managed 12 treys Clemson bagged 10.
“I was struggling but after I got that first one to go I got in a rhythm,” Harrison said.
The Tigers prompted fans to vacate their seats right from the opening tip, with Jordan Roper draining a three to start things off and McDaniels coming back with a teeth-rattling jam, making it 5-0.
But the Bruins seemed unbothered by the throng and got back in the game quickly.
Although Clemson’s defense was smothering – virtually every Belmont shot was contested – the sharpshooters kept firing away until the ball started to drop.
The Bruins grabbed their first lead (10-8) on a J.J. Mann jumper and pulled in front 18-13 thanks to treys from Reece Chamberlain and Craig Bradshaw.
They were also winning the battle of the boards, which was starting to frustrate the hosts as the first half wore on.
The Tigers, however, turned an 18-13 deficit into a 24-18 lead when they got mad, got aggressive - and started rebounding.
An 11-0 run, sparked by an Adonis Filer bucket and then a 3-pointer from the sophomore guard, put Belmont on its heels and put Brownell’s team in control.
Ibrahim Djambo kept the rally going when he came off the bench and scored seven consecutive points, capped off by a 4-point play at the first half’s 2:21 mark, to put the Bruins in a 35-23 hole.
Yet despite shooting just 31 percent in the first half, Belmont kept its poise and a three by Chamberlain to beat the buzzer made it a 37-31 game at intermission.
“I thought we played well early and then things started coming a little too easy,” Brownell said. “We struggled a little bit in the second half to guard them. They took away the paint and made it hard for K.J. to get to the rim.
“They made us try threes and fortunately we made a bunch.”
Roper led the Tigers after 20 minutes with 12 points while the Bruins’ double-digit scorer was Mann with 11.
It was mostly even the rest of the way until Clemson upped the defensive pressure in the final two minutes, getting just enough of an edge to win – and move on to New York.
Roper was the only other Tiger to hit double figures, scoring 12.
Bradshaw led Belmont with 21 points, followed by Mann (20) and Blake Jenkins (13).
“I thought it was a great basketball game,” Bruins coach Rick Byrd said. “I’m honestly happy for Brad. He’s one of the good guys in the business. He does things the right way. This was a great night for our program.
“I told our guys we played 38 minutes of even basketball and then you flip a coin to see who wins it.”