The game began as a back and forth affair with both teams playing tough man-to-man defense. As discussed in our game preview, the key matchup was at PF where Clemson's Jaron Blossomgame and Pittsburgh's Michael Young went head-to-head.
Very early on, Michael Young used his size and strength to back down and score in the post against Blossomgame. Interestingly, Coach Brad Brownell threw a wrinkle into the mix by using his centers (Nnoko/Djitte) to provide Blossomgame with support in the post by the way of double teams. This helped negate Young's size advantage over Blossomgame and also helped keep Jaron out of foul trouble (though Nnoko would end up with four fouls and Djitte fouled out). Meanwhile, Blossomgame made a huge impact on the offensive end showing a versatile mix of grittiness, touch, and range.
Pittsburgh held a slim 8-7 lead at the 16 minute TV timeout. Over the next 10 minutes Clemson's offense looked sharp. After a quick five-point burst from Jordan Roper (three-pointer and lay-up following a steal), the Tigers held a 12-point lead with about 6 minutes remaining in the half. At that point, the Tigers were a hot 5-9 from three (they finished the half 5-10).
An acrobatic, off-balance bucket in traffic from Donte Grantham with 2 minutes left in the first half highlighted his athleticism and what he can do when he doesn't settle for jump shots too often. It also helped carry Clemson to a bold 14-point (40-26) halftime lead. The Tigers looked excellent on both ends of the floor in the first half.
Two minutes into the second half, Pittsburgh moved to a zone defense (as Clemson led by 16) and began making some progress chipping away at Clemson's large lead. A quick Pittsburgh run was countered by Clemson, but Pittsburgh punched back with a 9-0 run that trimmed the lead to 9 points with just under 12 minutes to go. Clemson was just 1-4 from three in the second half to this point, and It seemed like they'd get into a dogfight. After a Brownell timeout, Gabe DeVoe hit a three to bring the lead back to 12. From there the Tigers didn't look back, and went on to win 73-60.
Quick Hitting Analysis
- Even bad teams will come up with a great upset victory here and there. That's not what this was. Clemson is better than Pittsburgh. The Panthers shot very well from three (42.1%) and even had some players who generally are not threats from range get hot, yet they were completely shut down inside the paint. Clemson's defense held them to a paltry 38.2% from inside the arc.
- I continue to be impressed with the Tigers' passing. Again I point to their assist/FGM ratio (the percentage of made baskets that came after an assist). It has been under 50% in the past few seasons, but has floated around 60% this year and was 61.5% tonight. While you could point to better shooting to explain the statistic, the eye test tells me at least part of it is improved passing. That's sustainable, improved basketball, not just hot shooting. We saw it tonight as Clemson broke the zone by getting into the heart of the defense and finding cutters along the baseline. This is maybe the most encouraging thing about Clemson's great start in conference play. Brownell's motion offense is finally working!
- Donte Grantham was very active and was a part of some key plays for the Tigers, however he had a poor shooting night (3-10, 0-5 from three). On the one hand, it's great to see Clemson able to win even when he shoots poorly , but on the other, I'd still like to see him attack the basket more often. It remains frustrating when he is shooting poorly, but settles for three-pointers with 21 seconds left on the shot clock.
- Jaron Blossomgame played extremely well scoring 22 points and grabbing 6 rebounds on exceptionally efficient 7-11 shooting. To be fair though, his counterpart from Pittsburgh, PF Michael Young, was equally good. Even facing some double teams in the post, Young scored 25 points with 7 rebounds on 9-14 shooting. The two PFs were the two best players in the contest.
- Coming into the year, our goal for Clemson was to win 10 non-conference games, win 9 conference games, and with 19 wins entering the ACC tournament, at least have a chance to make the NCAA tournament. This hope appeared dead even before the Tigers were blown out by Georgia in Athens. Fortunately, the Tigers' 6-2 ACC start has moved them to 13-7 overall with 10 ACC regular season games remaining. We have talked about Clemson's heavily front-loaded ACC schedule ad nauseum and now we're nearing the end of it. After playing at FSU this coming Saturday, they enter the much easier second half of ACC play in which they can look forward to playing Wake Forest, Boston College (twice), and Georgia Tech (twice). 12-6 would get Clemson to that original 19 win goal. I think we have a new goal for our ACC record (12-6) and the same goal for our overall record (19-11).