Following an extremely impressive 90-47 win over Mercer, the Tigers hosted the final game of their five game home stand as the South Carolina State Bulldogs came to Clemson.
Clemson’s non-conference schedule is comprised of three home and home contests (UGA, Bama, SC), three tournament games (Davidson, Xavier, and Oklahoma), and six “purchased” home games against weaker competition. SC State is one of the latter and at 327th in KenPom’s team rankings, the SC State Bulldogs are a team that the Tigers shouldn’t have any trouble beating.
The Tigers came out aggressively attacking the post and finding success. Jaron Blossomgame and Sidy Djitte used their muscle in the paint to give the Tigers a big advantage. The pair combined for 10 offensive rebounds. Donte Grantham added another six and the team has a whole finished the night with an outstanding 23 offensive boards (SC State only had 6 offensive rebounds).
The Tigers got off to a good start, claiming a 7-0 lead off a pair of dunks and a Shelton Mitchel three-pointer. That theme - shots at the rim and from the three point line - would continue.
Less than nine minutes into the game, the Tigers claimed an 11-point, 19-8 lead. From there, the Tiger defense got sloppy and lackadaisical. The Bulldogs found enough easy transition baskets to keep themselves in the game, and actually outscored the Tigers over the final 11 minutes of the first half to go into halftime trailing by 9, 42-33.
After a few minutes of similar play early in the second half, the Tigers went on a 12-4 run that put the game away.
Jaron Blossomgame game had a season-high 29 points to lead all scorers. He did most of his work in the post, but went 2-4 from three. He had only hit 3 three-pointers in total during the first eight games, so getting him on track there is critical both for the team and his NBA draft stock. Hopefully that continues.
I continue to be impressed with Sidy Djitte. We based a lot of our pre-season optimism on the improvement we expected to see from him and we’re getting it in bunches. He had 13 rebounds and 8 points on .800 shooting. Most amazing though is that he played 26 minutes with no personal fouls.
Legend Robertin only played three minutes. In that time he managed to go 0-3, but collect a blocked shot. He is really a great rim protector, but he will have to make major offensive strides before he seeing much court time. Elijah Thomas will gain eligibility soon and should take his minutes and then some.
Shelton Mitchell got his third consecutive start and has now cemented himself as the Tigers’ starting PG. We heard that would be the case during the pre-season when we got a chance to talk to Brad Brownell in person. A Shelton Mitchell injury delayed it and in his first action he looked a bit tentative. Now healthy, he is attacking the basket and creating plays for himself and teammates. He finished with 5 assists and 14 points, and shot 2-4 from three-point territory. That pushes his three-point percentage to .455 (5-11). It’s not the prettiest release and his numbers at Vanderbilt indicate that this may be fools gold, but it’s just an added bonus to the other aspects of his game that are well developed and making an impact for the Tigers.
As the Tigers pulled away, they moved to a 2-3 zone defense. It was effective and potentially something they can turn to in the future if they find themselves in foul trouble of struggling in specific one-on-one matchups. In the closing minutes, they got walk-ons Riley McGillan and Lyles Davis. It always irked me that Oliver Purnell would sometimes wait until there was a stoppage in play with about 10 seconds to go before he let them see the court. With this potentially being the last Tiger blowout for a while, it was good to see them get a few minutes.
Although the Tigers didn’t have the hot hand from three (8-31), they played with great efficiency (only 2 turnovers on the entire game), and dominated the glass. They grabbed half of all offensive rebounding opportunities on the night. To state that another way, they rebounded roughly half of their own misses. Incredible!
The only disappointment on the night was the stretches where the Tigers knew they were not in danger and softened up on defense. Brownell even pulled some starters to send a message. With bigger games now upcoming, maintaining focus shouldn’t be an issue moving forward. Well that, and the poor crowd. On TV, it didn’t look like there were even 500 students. I believe that’ll change rather quickly after football season, but it shouldn’t have to wait until then.
With the win the Tigers improve to 6-0 at home and 7-2 overall. They’ve avoided the boneheaded losses they’ve suffered in non-conference play over the past few seasons and find themselves in a better position for an NCAA tournament run as a result. Up next will be an opportunity for a quality resume road win at Alabama on Sunday, December 18th. The Tide are just 4-4, but still ranked 80th in KenPom due to their tough schedule. KenPom gives the Tigers a 59% chance to win on the road. After that its a very tough trip to Columbia followed by a home contest against a quality UNC-Wilmington team before ACC play begins.