Clemson bounced back from a blowout loss and scored 70 points, despite only getting 10 points from their seniors. Jaron Blossomgame led the way scoring 26 points on 80% shooting and knocking down 7-8 free throws.
The first half started with Clemson racing out to an early lead. Blossomgame and Grantham hit three pointers to get the scoring started. Nnoko and Blossomgame then added layups to get Clemson out to a 10-0 lead. Each team would score 26 more points in the first half and then each score 34 in the second half as the early run made the difference.
A Blossomgame dunk pushed the lead to 18-5 at the 12:03 mark, but the 13-point lead wasn't safe as the Tigers fell victim to the deadly combination of going ice cold and settling for too many three-pointers. In the next eight minutes, Clemson would chuck up 8 three-point attempts, going 0-8 while the Golden Grizzlies made nothing up lay-ups, tip-ins, and free throws. By the 3:45 mark, Clemson was clinging to a 25-22 lead.
The game turned after the TV timeout at the 3:06 mark. Clemson has not been exceptional at closing out first halves, but on Monday night they were. Clemson went on a 11-0 run led by two Blossomgame three-pointers. Oakland would punch back with a pair of free throws and then out of a timeout held for the final shot (something we should do more often) and scored on an alley-oop. Clemson entered the half leading 36-26. Blossomgame finished the first half with 19 points - already a career high.
In the second half, the offensive attention for the Tigers shifted to Landry Nnoko and the gameplan appropriately shifted away from the three point line. Nnoko scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half. Three minutes into the half, Clemson had extended their lead to 15 and the game seemed well in hand. Of course it wasn't. Throughout the half we watched as Oakland would trim it down to just a few points and then Clemson would counter to extended it back near double-digits multiple times.
Oakland's final rally cut the deficit to four points, but a Rod Hall three extended it to seven. After a Oakland free throw made it a 6 point game, Jaron Blossomgame was the one to deliver the dagger. With 2:06 remaining, Jaron turned down the open corner three and attacked the basket. The defender attempted to slip underneath him and draw a charge, but he was late getting there. Blossomgame finished at the rim and converted the free throw to extend the lead to 9 and end Oakland's hope.
For large stretches - especially in the first half - it was clear that we were watching a below average Tiger offense up against a far below average Golden Grizzly defense. Oakland would often leave Clemson with open jumpers and the Tigers simply couldn't make them. Although Clemson doesn't have the personnel to settle for threes, they were often reasonable in-rhythm shots that other teams would drool over. Conversely, when Oakland had the ball we saw some good basketball as their top 50 (points per possession) offense battled against our solid defense. Clemson's defense stepped up and held a team that was averaging nearly 1.1 points per possession to just .91. The performance moved Clemson's defense from 100th to 88th. It was one of their better defensive performances on the season and was the most encouraging thing from the game outside of Blossomgame's breakout performance.
Jaron Blossomgame finished with a career high 26 points and was near flawless as attested by his jaw dropping 172 Ortg. He had shot a putrid 3-22 from three coming into the game (and only shot 25% last season) so I was wondering at what point he'd stop hoisting them up. He silenced me (at least for now) with his 3-3 performance. He has improved his dribbling ability immensely. His improved quickness points to a stronger lower body. Averaging over 13 PPG, he leads the Tigers in scoring on the season. Who predicted that? We talked a bit about what this team will look like in two years during our preview for this game. Blossomgame's continued development is one of the couple of things that has me excited about what this team could do during that return year to the new LJC.
Oakland isn't exactly UNC or Louisville, but they have a legitimately good offense and our defense played an excellent game overall. The offense still needs to find jump shooting. Jordan Roper has not played to his potential this season. He has a 73.7 Ortg (20 points below all teammates except Ajukwa and DeVoe) and was 0-4 with no points in this contest as Clemson's bench was outscored 5 to 15. Developing depth and bench scoring is an area where the Tigers can improve and will need to do so quickly as they near the start of conference play.
The team's FT% has regressed from 74% last year to 66% this season. This isn't quite as alarming as it first looks though. There has been some regression from good charity stripe shooters like Hall and Harrison, but the biggest reason is the change in who is going to the line. Last year, McDaniels shot 84% on 184 FT attempts. He led the team in both categories (excluding Devin Coleman). Now Blossomgame leads the team in FT attempts as he has vastly improved his ability to attack the basket. He has also improved his FT% by about 4 percentage points, but it still lags what KJ did last season by about 20 percentage points. Hopefully Jaron continues to improve in this area can can be a 70%+ free throw shooter by his senior year.
Finally, I challenged Nnoko to rebound from back-to-back horrible games and noted that this matchup was an especially unfavorable one for him to do it, given that Oakland's senior center Corey Petros has been very good all season. Despite the more challenging matchup, Nnoko decided this would be the game he turned it on and he outscored the senior 17 to 7.
Unrelated, but worth mentioning, Gardner Webb beat Purdue just shortly before Clemson wrapped up their game. Of course, it doesn't forgive Clemson's loss to the Runnin' Bulldogs, but it should at least make you smirk.
The Tigers take a week off for Christmas and then wrap up non-conference play on December 30th against Robert Morris. Of Course, Dabo's Tigers will play in the Russell Athletic Bowl before then so be sure to check back here for plenty of Bowl coverage until then.