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Tigers Fall Short in Final Four Minutes, Lose to #10 Notre Dame 60-58

#10 Notre Dame used a late 8-2 run with the help of a silent whistle in the closing seconds to escape by the skin of their teeth in their first ever visit to Littlejohn Coliseum.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

If you were looking for something new, Super Tuesday provided the excitement as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (22-4) (10-3) traveled to Littlejohn Coliseum for the first time in program history to take on the Clemson Tigers (14-10) (6-6) for just the second meeting all time between the two programs. Both teams were looking for bounce back wins as Clemson fell short in Coral Gables against the University of Miami 56-45, while the Fighting Irish were coming off the worst loss in the Mike Brey era, losing 90-60 to the Duke Blue Devils.

Notre Dame is known for prolific shooting led by Sophomore Steve Vasturia, Senior Pat Connaughton and Senior Jerian Grant. You may recognize Jerian's name as he is the younger brother of Clemson alumni and former player Jerai Grant. Clemson would also have to handle the low post presence of Junior Zach Auguste who had his way with the Tigers in South Bend a year ago. The story for Clemson would be the health of senior point guard Rod Hall. Hall was noticeably holding his shoulder at the end of the Miami game and wore heavy protection for the Tuesday evening contest.

Rod Halls apparent shoulder injury lead to a change in the Clemson offense early as we saw Jordan Roper handing the ball at the top of the key while Rod Hall would curl off the ball and receive passes in the paint. Notre Dame would score the first four points of the game, but Clemson would immediately respond with an 11-0 run capped with a fast break dunk by Damarcus Harrison prompting a timeout by Mike Bray and Notre Dame.

Notre Dame would make the quick defensive adjustment by switching to a zone after Steve Vasturia ended the Clemson run with a three-pointer. Notre Dame would cut the lead to 11-9 before Clemson would go on a 5-0 spurt as they started to figure out the Notre Dame zone with some hot shooting, well over 70% up through the second television timeout.

The hot shooting would continue as Austin Ajukwa nailed a three with 9:14 remaining to extend the lead to 23-15. Damarcus Harrison (who came in early for a lackadaisical Dante Grantham) couldn't miss as he made his first 3 shots for 7 points going into the 8 minute television timeout. (Harrison averages 8ppg)

As the half wound down, the prolific shooting Notre Dame would start to heat up and Steve Vasturia and Pat Connaughton would start to it some jumpers. Clemson would continue to answer when Notre Dame got close with jumpers by Jordan Roper and Jaron Blossomgame maintaining the lead. But the Tigers would go cold missing 7 of their last 9 shots. Jerian Grant would suck some of the momentum out of the building by nailing a three-pointer as time expired in the first half to trim the lead to 31-29.

Clemson had scored 30 points in the first half of a contest for just the fourth time this season and would have to keep shooting the ball well to keep up with the Notre Dame attack. Clemson continued to struggle from the floor but would keep themselves in the game on the offensive glass. Notre Dame would take the lead back with a three point play from Pat Connaughton to go back up 34-33. Connaughton would continue to lead the way for the Fighting Irish as a three-pointer once again took the lead 37-35 as Notre Dame was beginning to flex its muscles.

Clemson would end the offensive woes with a posterizing block by Jaron Blossomgame leading to another three-pointer from Damarcus Harrison to give Clemson the lead yet again. He would give Clemson the lead on two straight possession making back to back three inters to give Clemson the lead 43-41.

The teams would ride the seesaw as the teams would exchange the lead seven times going into the second television timeout. The eight lead change was a monster as Jaron Blossomgame slammed down a put back after a Damarcus Harrison missed three-pointer to give Clemson the lead again at 48-47 prompting a Mike Bray timeout.

After a Clemson run, Notre Dame broke a 5 minute scoring drought with a layup by Auguste to cut it to 1. Once again Clemson would push back as after the thenth lead change of the second half, Rod Hall would make a mid-range jumper while being fouled as Clemson went up by 4 with the stretch run coming.

Clemson would stumble down the stretch as another poor Damarcus Harrison turnover allowed Notre Dame to tie the game at 56 and take the lead the next possession with 2 minutes remaining. Clemson would get the stop that they needed the next possession after another offensive miss, but an offensive rebound and a mid-range jumper would push the Notre Dame lead to 60-56 with 42.8 seconds remaining. Rod Hall would score Clemson's first field goal in 3+ minutes to cut the lead to 60-58 with 35.7 remaining.

Demetrius Jackson would miss the front end of a 1-and-1 giving Clemson the ball with 22.1 seconds remaining and a chance to tie the game. Blossomgame would miss a jumper and the rebound would be pushed out towards Rod Hall. Hall had his legs taken out from under him as the whistles remained silent on an obvious foul that would have put Rod Hall at the line with a chance to tie the game. Nevertheless, Notre Dame immediately turned it over giving Damarcus Harrisons an open (but out of rhythm) three for the win, but it rang off the front rim as Notre Dame escaped Littlejohn Coliseum with a win 60-58 with the help of a silent whistle.

Jerian Grant led the Fighting Irish with a game high 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Pat Connaughton finished with 14 points and shot 3-of-6 from behind the arc. Demetrius Jackson rounded out the double figure scorers for the Irish finishing with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting.

Jaron Blossomgame led the Tigers with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting to go along with 14 rebounds for another double-double. Damarcus Harrison was the only other Tiger in double figures with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and 3-of-5 from behind the arc. Harrison was the spark but two late costly turnovers proved costly. Clemson out-rebounded the Fighting Irish 38-26 but gave up the offensive rebounds late allowing Notre Dame to extend the late lead.

The Tigers return to action on Valentines Day at 12:00 noon against the Virginia Tech Hokies. Stay tuned to Shakin The Southland for more Clemson basketball coverage.