The UNC Wilmington Seahawks came into Littlejohn Coliseum ranked 51st by KenPom and boasting the 25th best offensive efficiency in the country. With the Tigers coming off their first ever road non-conference win over a ranked opponent, playing a surprisingly good mid-major was the perfect recipe for a bad letdown loss.
After 10 minutes of play, things looked like they could very well turn out that way. The Tigers had committed a handful of ugly turnovers, most notably when the Seahawks were pressuring the ball in a full-court press, and trailed 17-18.
Clemson then began to dedicate themselves to what was surely the game plan, working the ball into the paint. In less than three minutes, the Tigers went on a 10-0 run using nothing but lay-ups and free throws. They controlled the rest of the half and took a 44-31 lead into halftime.
With the encouragement of success, the Tigers continued to focus on working the ball inside, and it continued paying dividends. Sidy Djitte finished with 11 points on 5-7 shooting. Eli Thomas scored 12 on 5-6 shooting, and Jaron Blossomgame led all Clemson scorers with 20 points. Of those 43 points, none came from three and most if not all came from the post.
Just 14.8% of the Tigers field goal attempts came from three, and given they hit 60.9% of their two-point attempts, that was a good strategy. The Tigers certainly won’t be able to dominate the post against many ACC foes, but their ability to mold their offense to take advantage of their opponent’s weaknesses is encouraging nonetheless.
While their offense was finding success in the post, the Tiger defense keeping the Seahawks out of the paint. 44.3% of UNCW’s field goal attempts from three (33.7% was their season-long proportion coming into the night). This helped the Tigers balloon their lead to as many as 24 points in the second half.
In the games final minutes, the Tigers played a very conservative four corners offense to melt the clock, even as UNCW chipped away, to close out a 87-73 victory.
In addition to great games from the Tiger post players, Avry Holmes played well, finishing with 13 points, and Shelton Mitchell had a huge bounce back game. Mitchell was just 2-8 with 7 turnovers, 1 assist, and no trips to the FT line against the Gamecocks. It was his first bad game as a Tiger and he responded with 6 assists and 10 points on 8-8 FT shooting against UNCW.
With the win, the Tigers improve to 10-2 as they now move into ACC play with a horribly inconvenient noon game at Wake Forest on New Year’s Eve. The 10-2 record comes against a fairly stout non-conference schedule. Clemson went 1-1 in Tier-A games (top 50 opponent adjusted for venue), 4-1 in Tier-B games (top 100 opponent adjusted for venue), and 5-0 against weak competition.
The Tigers have not earned 10 non-conference wins in a season since the non-conference slate was trimmed when the ACC moved from a 16 to an 18 game ACC schedule. With the upcoming move to a giant 20 game ACC schedule, this will likely be the last time it ever happens.
The Tigers are well positioned for an NCAA tournament run. Unlike the past few seasons, the Tigers won’t have any inexplicable blemishes from early in the season holding them back come March. The ACC is loaded, but because the Tigers have done well to this point, they don’t have to do anything spectacular.