Looking to put a disappointing loss at Wake Forest in the rear view mirror, the Clemson Tigers (19-10) (10-7) would attempt to return to their winning ways as the Miami Hurricanes (15-15) (6-11) paid a visit to Littlejohn Coliseum on Tuesday night for an important ACC showdown.
This game appeared to present some match-up problems for the Tigers. Miami plays the game very similar to the way that Clemson does. Coming into Tuesday night's contest, Miami ran the slowest pace in the NCAA, while Clemson ran the 3rd slowest. Both teams are defensive-minded as well, as Miami has used a variety of defenses this year including a stingy match-up zone and a triangle-2 to stifle opponents all year.
That slow pace for Miami doesn't necessarily mean that they can't put some points on the board. Miami is a very athletic team that can run, and put up points in a hurry. In their last game, they managed to put up 85 points on the board (49 in the second half) against NC State. Clemson would have to counter with tough transition defense and a solid offensive game plan if they wanted to crack the zone defense that has hampered them all year, and walk out of Littlejohn with a victory.
The game got started with Landry Nnoko showing some range, nailing a long range jumper from the opening at the top of the zone. Clemson knew that they would have to make mid-range and long-range jump shots against a defense that they have struggled with all year, and they started out doing just that. Clemson would make its first 3 jumpers, including 2 from Landry Nnoko while Rod Hall added a pair of free throws.
Miami would stay right with Clemson during their hot start. In something that we are not accustom to seeing, Clemson's stingy man-to-man defense was getting torched as Miami was getting to the basket with ease. Usually Clemson's Achilles heel has been the open man in the post off of the pass. Miami decided to take a more direct approach as they would run a high ball screen while the guard was getting to the basket off of the dribble for open layups.
A layup by Rion Brown with 13:40 remaining gave Miami a 12-10 lead entering the first television timeout. Both teams were having their way offensively and neither team was struggling with the defensive match-up that has been talked about all week. Just like we drew it up, right?
Clemson put their 2nd team in after the television timeout, and Miami made a quick run. Continuing to go to the basket, Erik Swoope and Rion Brown attacked Clemson inside for a quick 9-2 run, capped with a Davon Reed 3-pointer with 11:28 left in the first half to give the Hurricanes a 19-12 lead. Clemson's starters would return and Rod Hall would stop the bleeding with a layup to get Clemson back on track offensively.
After the 2nd television timeout, we saw a role reversal from 2 teams that I didn't expect. With Miami shooting 9-of-12 to start the game with 13 of their first 16 points coming in the paint, Clemson decided to turn the tables and switch to a zone defense of their own. After the initial switch, Miami would shoot 0 for their next 6 and not score a basket for over 6 minutes.
On the other end, Clemson needed to make a run of there own. Bolstered by the energy that the zone defense had given them, Damarcus Harrison was fed by Rod Hall on a fast break and went up for the dunk but was fouled hard by Rion Brown on his way up. The officials would go to the monitor and decide that it was a Flagrant 1 foul on Brown. (I'll leave that decision up to the refs, personally I thought the call could go either way as I did see a play for the ball, but there was a lot of contact). Harrison would make both free-throws and nail a 3-pointer with 7:40 remaining after the flagrant foul to cap a 5 point possession and give Clemson the lead back, 21-19.
The run would extend to 13-2 that all started with the defensive change and capped by a Rod Hall floater. Clemson would switch back-and-forth between the zone defense and the man-to-man, but Miami continued to get to the basket easily against the man. The halftime buzzer sounded and we were right back to where we started with the game tied at 27-27.
With a streaky first half in the books, both teams came out and played more to the pace that we anticipated that this game would take. With a quick Damarcus Harrison dunk, both teams would go into a mini-drought as the defenses made some half time adjustments. Miami was missing shots while Rod Hall was uncharacteristically turning the ball over.
With K.J. McDaniels being blanketed by the defense, it was necessary for a player to step up and put the ball in the basket and why not Adonis Filer? With Rod Hall on the bench catching his breath after playing 19 minutes in the first half, Filer came in to fill some much needed minutes and he would do more than that.
After Damarcus Harrison buried a 3-pointer, Filer, who had not scored in the last 2 and half games, would drive to the basket and pull up for a jumper. McDaniels would hit from the lane in the Tigers next trip down the court, then with 13:47 remaining the game, Filer took a pass from Rod Hall at the top of the key and buried a 3-pointer to cap a 10-3 Tiger run and extend the lead to 39-32.
If one player stepping up wasn't enough, how about 2 of them? Ibrahim Djambo (a .216 3-point shooter) would step back a minute later and nail a 3 to keep the hot shooting Tigers up by 9. At this point for the Canes, leading scorer Rion Brown was starting to heat up. That didn't phase Filer as his next trip down the court he was fouled while hitting a baseline runner and converted the free-throw to put Clemson up 49-40 with 5:33 remaining in the game.
Miami wouldn't go away so easily. Rion Brown answered Filer's 3-point play by hitting a 3 of his own, and after another Rod Hall turnover, Erik Swoope drove the length of the court and converted a layup to give the Canes a quick 5-0 spurt to put them back in the game, down only 4.
Like most of the season, the veteran point guard would take over down the stretch. While Rion Brown was doing everything that he could to raise the Hurricanes from the dead, Hall would score the next 5 points for Clemson, including hitting 1-of-2 from the line after Damarcus Harrison missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with Clemson only up by 4, but Jaron Blossomgame tore down the offensive rebound and played the outlet pass to Hall before he was fouled.
Miami had plenty of chances down the stretch as the game stayed within 4 points for most of the final 4 minutes of play, but a big rebound by Landry Nnoko off of James Kelly missed jumper and some clutch free throws from Damarcus Harrison sealed the victory, as Clemson walked away winners by a score of 58-54.
Rod Hall led the Tigers in scoring tonight with 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting and adding 6 assists while shooting 6-of-8 from the free throw line. K.J. McDaniels finished with 12 points on 6-of-12 shooting in a game where he was taken out of the offensive strategy by the Hurricanes array of defensive strategies. As a result, McDaniels didn't attempt a free throw the entire night. Damarcus Harrison capped his 4th straight game in double figures by adding 12 points himself, including two 3-pointers. Filer added 8 points, all in the second half to complete the game for the Tigers, who shot 47.7% (21-44) from the field to finally crack the code of how to compete against the zone.
For the Hurricanes, Rion Brown was the leader with a game high 21 points (his 7th time scoring over 20 points in 11 games) on 9-of-17 shooting. Erik Swoope was the other significant offensive threat for the Hurricanes scoring 14 points on a very nice 7-of-10 shooting. The Hurricanes shot .500 (25-50) from the field thanks to a huge day inside the paint, but the stats of the game come from outside the paint for the Hurricanes. Miami shot just 2-of-12 (.167) from 3-point range and the game was lost for Miami at the free throw line as they shot only 2-of-8 for the night.
Clemson will conclude the regular season Saturday afternoon as the Pittsburgh Panthers come to town as the 2 teams will play for 5th place in the ACC standings as 12:00 noon. Stay tuned to Shakin the Southland for more Clemson Basketball coverage.