Clemson returned to the ACC vs. Big 10 Challenge after a year absence with a matchup against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Monday night at Littlejohn Coliseum. The two teams matched up for just the 2nd time in history with Clemson defeating the Scarlet Knights in the only other matchup in the 1999 NIT. The two teams were battling depth issues as Clemson point guard Rod Hall was given the start after injuring his ankle and playing only 1 minute in a game against High Point.
Rutgers was dealing with their own depth issues as they entered the game with only 2 scholarship guards available to play. There was also the question of which Eddie Jordan lead Rutgers team would show up to play. Rutgers was coming off a woeful performance against Virginia scoring only 26 points while making no three point attempts. This performance came after a Vanderbilt performance in which the Scarlet Knights scored 68 points and made 11 three pointers.
The Tigers got their answer as to which team would show up early on in the matchup. The Tigers immediately went to Landry Nnoko to try and establish an inside presence, Rutgers took a different approach as Myles Mack and Mike Williams would nail back to back three point jumpers to give Rutgers a quick 6 point burst. Freshman Dante Grantham answered with a three pointer of his own scoring the Tigers first 5 points.
The teams would trade baskets as Clemson relied on three point shooting to stay in the game with additional 3 pointers from Rod Hall, Damarcus Harrison and an another three pointer from Dante Grantham. With Dante Grantham running the offense, a bad turn of events happened for the Tigers as Grantham picked up his 2nd personal foul about halfway through the 1st half on a very questionable hand check call, at a time when the referees appeared to be letting the teams play.
Picking up the offense after Grantham was forced to sit was Jaron Blossomgame who ignited the Tigers on an 11-2 run with three pointers from Damarcus Harrison and a three pointer from Patrick Rooks which extended Clemson's first lead of the game to 29-25 with 4:03 remaining in the first half. Rutgers quickly took the lead back after with a 6-0 run of their own making the Tigers vaunted defense look silly with multiple uncontested baskets on backdoor cuts prompting a Brad Brownell timeout.
The teams entered the locker rooms at halftime deadlocked at 33. While Clemson did secure rebounds in the first half, Rutgers outscored the Tigers 16-6 in the paint as Rutgers was having their way inside with easy layups. Sidy Djitte struggled for position on the boards in the first half and Rutgers was finding their way to the basket.
The second half began with teams trading baskets as again, Rutgers was getting to the rim. A dunk by Junior Etou broke a 35 all tie to give Rutgers the lead. Senior Damarcus Harrison gave the Tigers the offensive shot in the arm that they needed to attempt to put the Scarlet Knights away, scoring 8 points in a row capped with an acrobatic three point play at the rim to give Clemson a 4 point lead.
Unfortunately, whenever the Tigers threw a punch, Rutgers would immediately counterpunch as Kadeem Jack rattled off 5 straight points of his own to put Rutgers within 1. Rutgers would start to go cold from the field as Blossomgame started to show some offensive prowess once again nailing a jumper out of a Rutgers timeout to give Clemson its largest lead of the night 55-48 with 7:41 remaining.
With Clemson holding its largest lead of the night, the trio of Kadeem Jack, Myles Mack and Junior Etou took over spurting Rutgers to a 9-0 run that took just 2 minutes off the clock due to quick Clemson shots and turnovers. A Junior Etou layup would put Clemson away for good giving Rutgers a 62-57 lead. Rutgers would hit 7-of-8 free throws down the stretch to ice the game and give Rutgers a 69-64 win in Littlejohn Coliseum.
Clemson had a balanced scoring attack in the game with 4 starters in double figures lead by Damarcus Harrison with 15 points on 8-of-18 shooting. Jaron Blossomgame added 12 Points and 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the young season. (Blossomgame finished with only one double-double a season ago). Rounding out the scoring for the Tigers was Grantham and Hall with 10 points a piece.
Rutgers was lead by Junior Etou finishing with a game high 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Kadeem Jack would finish with 15 points. Myles Mack and Greg Lewis would round out the scoring with 12 and 11 points. Clemson outrebounded Rutgers 39-30, and finished with more assists and steals in the loss, however, Rutgers only turned the ball over 3 times in the entire game to the Tigers 12 to seal the victory.
The Tigers will return to action Sunday August 8th as the 18th ranked Arkansas Razorbacks travel to Littlejohn Coliseum. Stay tuned to Shakin the Southland for more Clemson Basketball coverage.