Big Apple Bound: Tigers down Belmont in thriller

Clemson fans rush the court and celebrate with Clemson basketball player K.J. McDaniels after the Tigers defeated Belmont 73-68 at Littlejohn Coliseum Tuesday night. The win sends Clemson to New York City to the play in the NIT Semifinal game.

Photo by Nathan Gray

Clemson fans rush the court and celebrate with Clemson basketball player K.J. McDaniels after the Tigers defeated Belmont 73-68 at Littlejohn Coliseum Tuesday night. The win sends Clemson to New York City to the play in the NIT Semifinal game.

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.”


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Comments » 5

TigerNE writes:

I'm thankful that Belmont was so cold in shooting the first half. That, and our ability to step up our shooting was key for the win. For a while there in the second I didn't think there was anything we could do to defend against their shooting outside the paint.

michtiger writes:

Good win. Surprising 3 shooting for Tigers. In the last two games we showed we have some work to do on defending in bound plays as well as our inbounding under pressure ( sure Brownell sees it ). Easy points for opp. Hall is very good but he does get sloppy with the ball at times. convince Filler to slow down he looks out of control. We have to be pleased with what this coach and team have done this year

rearviewmirror writes:

It has been a pleasure to watch the team mature this year! Ajukwa is showing a ton of potential as a freshman and am interested to see what he has in store over the next few years. I'm really impressed with how well Brownell has made the players mesh. Over the course of this year they feed more and more off of each others energy and play unselfishly. They are no longer phased by being down several points and can close games in the clutch.

This was a great win last night against a team that shoots well, especially from beyond the arc. McDaniels is hands-down one of the most exciting players to watch in all of college basketball! I hope he stays another year. Go Tigers!

DahlonegaJoe writes:

Go tigers.
Very good run.
Lets make history now, take that next step.

33dtb writes:

Go tigers.!!!!!
Go K.J.!!!!!!!!!!!!

Team play is a beautiful thing.

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