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Clemson Tops High Point Behind 27 Points from Jaron Blossomgame

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The Tigers improved to 3-2 with a win over High Point University on Friday night.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Clemson Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

On the eve of the Palmetto Bowl, the hardwood Tigers were in action against the High Point Panthers. High Point came out in a 2-3 zone defense, which they would stick with all night, and the Tiger offense got off to a quick start. On the Tigers first possession they worked the ball into the middle of the zone where Blossomgame could distribute as the zone collapsed towards him. He immediately found Gabe DeVoe open behind the arc who knocked in a three-pointer to get the offense started.

The Tiger offense began the night working patiently against the zone with generous passing that led to 19 assists by the nights end. The Tigers threes were falling early helping the offense roll. High Point countered with solid three-point shooting of their own, keeping them within striking distance. The Panthers would finish 40% from three.

With just under 11 minutes to go in the first half the Tigers held a precarious two point lead. That’s when Donte Grantham stole the ball and took it coast to coast with a lay-in to put Clemson up 20-16. After a defensive stop, Robert Morris transfer Marcquise Reed knocked down a three-pointer while getting fouled. After getting up from the ground, he made the free throw to complete the four-point play. Another defensive stop and lay-in ballooned the Tiger lead to double digits for the first time. From there, they would put it in cruise control.

In the second half, the Tigers were outscored 39-43. Their defense, which was man-to-man all night, lacked intensity and looked lackadaisical for long stretches. High Point also deserves credit for some impressive stretches of solid execution.

On offense, the Tigers grew overly reliant on the three-point shot. Even when their hot touch had cooled they sometimes lacked the patience to work the ball inside the zone. They’d end the night 9-29 from three. Fortunately, the Tigers offense executed well enough otherwise to score 83 points and keep High Point at an arms distance. Their offensive efficiency was an excellent 124.6. High Point posted a still very good 109.8 offensive efficiency.

There was only one point where the game truly felt in jeopardy. After allowing the lead to dwindle to just four, Marcquise Reed knocked down a beautiful floater off a pump fake. Knowing the importance of a defensive stop, crowd then rose to their feet for the first time all night. High Point seemed flustered and gave the ball away on a poor perimeter pass. Blossomgame took it across the court for an emphatic, momentum shifting dunk that put the Tigers up eight and ended the threat.

Of note, Clemson PG Shelton Mitchell returned from a pre-season knee injury and played 11 minutes off the bench. He did not score, missing his only two shots by quite a bit. He had two assists and one nice drive to the basket that opened up teammates on the kick out. We’ll wait to see how he works into the rotation, but given how well Marcquise Reed has played, it would be surprising to see Mitchell start at PG, as it would push Holmes to SG and create a logjam limiting Reed’s minutes. I expect Mitchell to come off the bench for at least the next few games. With Mitchell’s return, Ty Hudson did not play. Mitchell’s return is a nice boost for the Tigers depth – much needed!

Sidy Djitte once again did relatively well avoiding foul trouble. He played 31 minutes while only collecting three personal fouls. That’s under 4 fouls per 40 minutes! He is averaging 5.4 fouls per 40 minutes this season after averaging 7.5 a year ago!

Legend Robertin picked up three personal fouls, no points, and no rebounds 6 minutes. That comes out to 20 fouls per 40 minutes. They won’t let you do that…

In end, the Tigers’ offense was good enough to beat an overmatched High Point team that played very well. While the defense seemed to lack focus and intensity, I’m willing to chalk it up to an early lead against a less talented foe (similar to Clemson football after getting up 21-0 against Wake Forest).

Next, the Tigers improve to 3-2 and have Nebraska coming to Littlejohn for the ACC v. B1G Challenge. Nebraska is off to a better than expected start that includes a win over KenPom top-50 Dayton. This is exactly the type of game Clemson would lose in year’s past and exactly the type they need to win to make the NCAA tournament this season. They play this Wednesday at 9:00pm on ESPNU.