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Clemson Upsets Pittsburgh on the Road

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Jaron Blossomgame leads the way for Clemson with 18 points as the Tigers find their first ACC win of the season and their first ever win against Pittsburgh.

Blossomgame scored 18 points and has emerged as Clemson's biggest threat.
Blossomgame scored 18 points and has emerged as Clemson's biggest threat.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

"The Pete" was rocking as Jamie Dixon was going for his 300th career win, but Clemson came out with the same strong defense they showed against Louisville. While Pittsburgh struggled offensively, we were treated to a little preview of what Brownell's offense looks like with good shooting. In the first half, the Tigers' shot 36.4% from three with 11 of their 30 shot attempts coming from beyond the arc. Pittsburgh was clearly not expecting a 28.3% 3P% team to light them up from distance.

Jordan Roper came off the bench and lit a spark for the offense scoring all 8 of his points in the first half. The Tigers had built a strong 11-point lead with 3:33 remaining in the first half, but as all great coaches do, Jamie Dixon adjusted. Dixon extended his defense to the full court, putting pressure on the in-bounder. Clemson has had trouble with in-bounding for quite a while. In fact, it cost the Tigers a win against the Panthers last season. The adjustment worked as Clemson began committing turnovers, allowing the Panthers to get higher percentages before Clemson's 2-3 zone could get settled. This created a quick 12-4 run for Pittsburgh that cut the lead to 3.

With the shot clock off, Clemson wisely milked the clock and ensured they'd take the last shot of the half. Rod Hall missed a jump shot, but Blossomgame tipped it in, stymieing Pitt's momentum and sending them into halftime with a five-point lead.

Clemson came out of halftime somewhat adjusted to the pressure (though they'd still use a timeout to in-bound), and ready for the dog fight. Pitt tied the game at 44, but Clemson responded with a 10-2 run. From there it was a back-and-forth, evenly played battle, but Clemson would never surrender the lead.

Clemson's defense held Pittsburgh below its shooting percentages from both two and three while continuing their hot shooting. For the game, Clemson shot an amazing 8-18 for three. Grantham scored all his points from beyond the arc with three three-pointers.

Even with the hot shooting, Clemson would have likely lost if not for the great effort from bench players. Roper was the catalyst that helped build Clemson's first half lead. More eye opening though were the performances from Sidy Djitte and Josh Smith. Landry Nnoko struggled, scoring just three points and grabbing only two rebounds while fouls limited his playing time. Often this would be a huge problem for Clemson, but today it did not matter. Both Sidy Djitte and Josh Smith played the best games of their careers.

Djitte tied  his career-high with 8 points. He was extremely efficient, making four of his five field goal attempts while committing no turnovers. He also grabbed five offensive rebounds and dished out a beautiful assist in traffic that led to an easy basket. Josh Smith set a new career-high with 7 points and was also efficient making two of four field goals and three of four free throws while committing no turnovers. Both Sidy and Smith have had six games where they have been held scoreless, but together they made a huge difference. With Roper's 8, Clemson got 23 total bench points.

Rod Hall scored 12 points with 4 assists, but his contributions on the glass are understated by his 7 rebounds. He had countless tips that led to team rebounds and saved multiple possessions. Jaron Blossomgame led the way once again with 18 points on 6-9 shooting. He worked very hard over the offseason and is now a much more explosive player. He could still improve his jump shot, but has progressed to the point of being our best player as a RS sophomore.

This victory is Clemson's third marquee resume win along with Arkansas and LSU and breathes life into a season that was teetering on the brink of disaster. The offensive output, specifically 44.4% 3P shooting, likely isn't replicate, but nobody will complain about stealing an ACC road win against a top-notch program like Pittsburgh. Hopefully this gives the team some confidence moving forward. Ideally, Roper, Djitte, and Smith will use this game as their springboard to providing more support for the starters throughout the rest of ACC play.

Apparently UNC has our number (not that we didn't know that), and blowout losses to the Heels shouldn't be the measuring stick for our expectations. Since that ugly loss on national television, Clemson nearly beat Louisville and knocked off Pittsburgh. Clemson's adjustment to use a zone defense in the Louisville game was also used here as the Tigers switched from man to zone defense throughout the contest. It has been effective in both games. Clemson held Pittsburgh to a eFG% of just 43.4 (while Clemson had an eFG% of 54.9).

Georgia Tech (who just lost in Winston-Salem), Virginia Tech, Boston College, Florida State, and apparently Pittsburgh are all beatable. Clemson still has an opportunity to fight their way into the middle of the pack in the conference. This looks like a team that can grind their way back into NIT contention late in the season, and at the very least give us reason to watch and hope for the future.

Go Tigers!