We've all seen the commercial hundreds of times already this year. Journeys will begin, determination will thrive, traditions will endure, rivalries will ignite, suspense will rise, stars will shine, leaders will inspire and celebrations will reign. This is ACC Basketball. I can honestly say that eight phrases could not have been more appropriately selected to describe one basketball game. Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to the new ACC as the Clemson Tigers (15-8) (6-5) traveled to South Bend Indiana to take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (13-12) (4-8) for the first time in program history.
The Tigers were in the home stretch of a brutal 5 out of 6 games on the road portion of their schedule, and were playing on 1 days rest, which was shortened thanks to the weather as the Tigers were delayed leaving Syracuse before heading west to Indiana.
Notre Dame was having problems of its own. Losers of 5 of their last 7 games, the Irish were looking to have some luck thrown their way on Tuesday night. And what better place to do it than in South Bend where Notre Dame is an astonishing 63-7 in their last 70 home games at the Edmund P. Joyce Center.
The implications of this game were clear for the Tigers. If they wanted to stay on the NCAA tournament bubble, they would need wins like this on the road to counteract poor road losses earlier in the season at Arkansas and at Auburn to boost their RPI. Coming off a loss, but a solid performance at Syracuse, the Tigers were ready to go at the tip.
The opening five minutes was as close to 1-on-1 basketball as you will find. K.J. McDaniels looked to announce his presence with authority immediately opening the scoring with a thunderous dunk. Zach Auguste would match him with six consecutive points of his own as going into the first television timeout, the score was Auguste 6, McDaniels 4.
The big story in the first five minutes was the status of Irish Senior Center Garrick Sherman. While fighting for a rebound with Jaron Blossomgame, Sherman managed to get a hand on the ball and immediately looked down to his finger. Sherman would immediately leave the game to have his fingers taped. He would return, but obviously not at 100%.
With the Notre Dame offensive having to noticeably adjust; Clemson could not take advantage as they struggled to get the ball inside to Landry Nnoko for much of the ballgame. The next ten minutes would feature 7 lead changes as the teams would provide an answer for each basket until a Rod Hall layup gave Clemson the lead 20-19 with 6:11 remaining in the first half. At this point, Nnoko would have to leave the game with his second foul, giving Josh Smith significant minutes as Sidy Djitte was unavailable tonight after an ankle injury suffered against Syracuse.
Clemson would go cold as Notre Dame got a quick spurt from an Eric Atkins 3-pointer to give Notre Dame a 5 point lead. After a Josh Smith free throw finally managed to get Clemson back in the scorers column, Pat Connaughton would find the bottom of the net for another 3-pointer to give Notre Dame 28-21 lead with 1:38 remaining in the half. Clemson would answer with back-to-back 3's of their own by K.J. McDaniels and Damarcus Harrison to quickly trim the lead and go into halftime trailing 32-27 after a V.J. Beachem jumper as time expired.
The second half didn't start well for Clemson. Notre Dame was victimizing Jaron Blossomgame with the screen and slip as Blossomgame would double the ball and leave his man for an open layup. Blossomgame would head to the bench for the majority of the second half, and Clemson just couldn't seem to get closer than 4 points as 10 minutes into the second half, they were trailing 42-38.
Enter a weary and tired K.J. McDaniels. With the Tigers trailing by 9 after a quick Irish spurt, McDaniels buried his third 3-pointer of the game, followed by a dunk and a jumper by Jordan Roper, and all of the sudden, we had ourselves a 1 point game with the Tigers trailing 48-47.
But you know what they say about Clemson scoring draughts, they come in 2's. Clemson wouldn't score for the next five minutes, and Auguste and Sherman added open layups to extend the lead back 54-47. Rod Hall would end the scoring draught with a layup to trim the lead to 5 with 2:20 remaining.
After a Notre Dame Timeout, Coach Brownell decided to make a change. Going away from the man-to-man that Clemson is known for; they switched to a 1-3-1 zone with McDaniels at the point. Damarcus Harrison and Rod Hall would force the ball carrier back to the post where McDaniels would force an over the top pass. It worked like a thing of beauty. Rod hall came away with a steal and fed Damarcus Harrison who calmly nailed 2 free throws. The next possession, McDaniels intercepted an inside-out pass and raced down the floor and dunked to cut the lead down to 54-53.
Notre Dame carried the ball down the court with a 1 point lead and 41 seconds left to play. The Irish looked totally confused as to how to attach the zone defense that the Tigers were still in. Clemson ripped away its third steal in 3 possessions as Landry Nnoko got his hands on an interior pass. Clemson would hold for the final shot, down 54-53 and go for the win.
With 8 seconds remaining in the game, Rod Hall made his move, driving the basket and was fouled by Eric Atkins in the act of shooting with 4 seconds remaining looking at 2 free throws to give the Tigers the win. Tiger fans held their breath as Hall stepped to the stripe and his first free throw found the back iron and fell out. He would make the second free throw to tie the game at 54 and send the first ever meeting between these two squads into overtime.
Let me quickly explain how the first 3:45 of the first overtime period went in one sentence. Steve Vasturia hit 1 of 2 free throws, and his hair was still perfect. The tired teams remained scoreless before Atkins hit a jumper with 1:16 remaining to extend the lead to 3. Who else would answer for the Tigers but McDaniels? McDaniels found his way into the lane and hit a turnaround jump shot to get the lead back down to 1.
With 24 seconds remaining, Notre Dame finally found the center of the Clemson 1-3-1 zone as Pat Connaughton drove to the lane to convert a layup while being fouled by a silly charge attempt by Adonis Filer. Connaughton would drill the free throw to put the Irish up 60-56. Rod Hall would answer with a layup with 10 seconds remaining, but it appeared to little to late as Brownell called a timeout to look for the steal. Then, Notre Dame slipped up. With Nnoko pressuring the in bounder, the ball was fed to Connaughton with McDaniels in hot pursuit. McDaniels got a hand on it before Nnoko quickly turned around and grabbed the ball, and was fouled by Connaughton in the process. The 57% free throw shooter would calmly walk to the line and drill two free throws for another improbable comeback to tie the game at 60.
Notre Dame still had one shot as Atkins took the inbound pass and rushed down the court before turning it over on a double dribble with 4 seconds remaining. 1.8 seconds remaining. Clemson would heave the ball down the court as Garrick Sherman swatted the ball into the seats in attempt to kill the remainder of the clock, however 0.8 seconds still remained. Notre Dame called timeout allowing Clemson to set up for one more play. After setting two off ball screens, McDaniels flashed to the high post and got off an open 3-pointer for the win that drew iron as the teams went to a 2nd overtime tied at 60.
McDaniels picked up right where he left off hitting the first jump shot to give Clemson a 2 point lead. Unfortunately, the 2nd overtime belonged to Irish Freshman Steve Vasturia. Vasturia spotted up for 3 from the left baseline and nailed it to give Notre Dame a 1 point lead. Clemson would take the lead once again after Damarcus Harrison missed a layup, but McDaniels was there for the follow up to give Clemson a 64-63 lead with 2 minutes remaining.
Unfortunately, the Tigers would not score for the remainder of the game. After a V.J. Beachem missed three pointer gave the Tigers the ball with a chance to extend the lead to 3 points, Landry Nnoko missed a bad turn-around jump shot, and Vasturia made them pay again with another 3-pointer to give the Irish a 2 point lead. McDaniels answer spun around the rim and did everything but go in as Pat Connaughton would add two free throws to put the game out of reach and give Notre Dame another win on their home court by the final score of 68-64.
K.J. McDaniels put on one of the greatest performances that I have ever seen by a Tiger scoring 30 of the teams 64 points on 13-24 shooting. He grabbed 14 rebounds, dished out 3 assists, came away with 2 steals and added 5 blocked shots. Playing 46 minutes on one days rest took its toll on McDaniels as he was noticeably winded for a majority of the second half. I cannot say enough about the determination of this young man as he almost single handedly willed the Tigers to a potential road victory.
Rod Hall added 12 points of his own and Damarcus Harrison finished with 8 points including two big three pointers. Unfortunately, the rest of the Tiger starting five (Nnoko, Blossomgame and Filer) combined for 6 points on 2-of-18 shooting in 84 minutes tonight. McDaniels phenomenal performance aside, Clemson shot under 35% for the third consecutive game, finishing 34% from the field.
Notre Dame was lead by Eric Atkins who finished with 16 points and handed out 6 assists. Zach Auguste added 14 points and 12 rebounds while Pat Connaughton and Steve Vasturia added 13 points and 11 points respectively.
Clemson will look to rebound at home at Littlejohn Coliseum where they are 10-1 this season when #17 Virginia Cavaliers come to town on Saturday for a noon showdown with the Tigers. Stay tuned to Shakin the Southland for more Clemson Basketball coverage.