Clemson entered this game riding a six-game losing streak. Similarly, Pitt had lost five in a row and was last seen losing to Louisville by 55, the worst blowout in ACC history. KenPom gave the Tigers a 57% chance to collect the road win, but just before tip-off it was announced that starting Center Sidy Djitte would not play due to a knee injury (minor bang during practice). Fortunately, the Tigers got off to a strong start.
Early in the game, Jaron Blossomgame knocked down two three-pointers. He’d finish with four three-pointers and 25 points. After starting ACC play 1-11 from three, he has gone on a 9-14 hot streak from deep.
Clemson’s offense was clicking in the first half as Blossomgame had 13 points first half points and Shelton Mitchell had success distributing to teammates. The Tigers were converting turnovers and missed shots into transition buckets, but the defense, though improved from a week ago, still left more to be desired.
Defensive breakdowns in zone allowed open three pointers, something we’ve seen before. Pitt forwards knocked down a few jump shots and the lead Clemson played with for most of the first half had become a two point deficit. In the final Pitt possession of the first half, Jamel Artis let the clock wind down below 10 seconds and then stared down Donte Grantham as he dribbled within two steps of the three-point line, rose up, and buried a tremendous NBA three. it extended the Panther lead to 36-31 and gave them all the momentum at the break.
Anyone who thinks this team has quit or given up on their coach was proven wrong by the way the Tigers responded to start the second half. The newfound focus on defense was reminiscent of plucky Brownell team’s of the past. Pitt couldn’t buy a basket in the opening minutes of the second half. A 3:40 scoring drought to start the half was enough for Clemson’s offense to mount a 12-0 run.
Mitchell’s excellence at leading the offense in transition continued and had it’s best moment during the 12-0 run. Following a Clemson rebound, Shelton Mitchell weaved through Pitt’s transition defense. He made it all the way to the basket before the completely collapsed Pitt defense stopped him. He turned to the top of the key, holding his pivot foot, and delivered the ball to a wide open Jaron Blossomgame. Blossomgame knocked it down - his fourth three-pointer of the afternoon - extending their lead to 50-40.
Kevin Stallings pulled his entire starting five, hoping for a better defensive performance, but after a score by Pittsburgh, Clemson countered with an open dunk. Pitt starters re-entered the game and the game settled down. Pitt began chipping away and we were in for yet another ACC battle down the stretch.
The Tigers lead bounced between 4-7 points into the final few minutes of the game. Leading by five with just three minutes to go, Gabe DeVoe secured a huge offensive rebound and scored on what the announcers deemed a “want to” bucket. A minute later the lead was back down to five. Grantham took an open three that would have put the Tigers up eight and iced the game. It missed and on the ensuing possession Michael Young drew a foul on Eli Thomas. It was his fifth foul of the game. After Young made one of the two free throws, the lead was down to four and Clemson would try to close it out without Eli Thomas or Sidy Djitte. They went with a small lineup.
After failing to find Blossomgame, the Tigers earned a defensive stop - something absent from recent crunch time recaps. Still clinging to a four-point lead, Coach Brownell called a timeout, knowing a bucket would seal the victory. He drew up a plan to get the ball to Jaron in the paint. It worked. The second Blossomgame touched it, he was immediately swarmed by three defenders. He quickly passed out of trouble and Pitt fouled the cutter. This reset the shot clock and ate up precious seconds. After the possession had lasted more than 40 seconds, it was Marcquise Reed who drove to the basket and made the dagger lay-up.
Pitt would foul, the Tigers would convert their FTs, and it would be Clemson who would get their second ACC win. A big smile was evident on the Tiger players faces as they knew they had earned a road win that keeps their NCAA tournament hopes alive.
This can’t be stated strongly enough. It was a huge win for the Tigers. We knew the loser of this contest would effectively have their NCAA tournament hopes dashed before February. The Tigers avoided such a fate and are now 12-8 (2-6) with a winnable home game against GT coming this Wednesday.
Jaron Blossomgame was the star of the afternoon. He has regained his three-point shot and with a healed thumb (fought through an injury against VT), his baby hook was back in full force. He was the best player on the court all day.
Shelton Mitchell finished with six assists and was second on the team with 12 points. He is the catalyst of Clemson’s transition offense. Marcquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe scored 10 and 9 respectively, accounting for all the team’s bench points. Marcquise Reed was 4-8 on offense with no turnovers.
This win is particularly impressive because they did it without Sidy Djitte, their best rebounder. Although Thomas fouled out, he lasted 30 minutes. The Tigers got four minutes from Robertin and survived with a small lineup for six. They held their own on the boards (36-34 advantage in total rebounds, slight Pitt advantage when accounting for turnovers).
Most notable from this game, is that they held the Panthers to 60 points on their own home court. The Tigers haven’t held an opponent to 60 or fewer since their win over the Gamecocks.
The Tigers NCAA hopes are resuscitated. It’s a tough road, but the road is still visible for them to navigate.