After a concerning start that had the Tigers clinging to a 22-20 lead deep into the first half, Clemson went on a 22-2 run to close the half and blow open the game. Leading 44-22 entering the second half, they rotated in reserves and still grew the lead by 6 to win 85-57.
Shortly before the game started, news broke that Clemson PF David Skara was suspended by the NCAA for nine games for an “infraction” that occurred while he was at Valparaiso. Based on context, this is likely due to some obscure and minor involvement a sports-related activity. It comes on the same day that the NCAA suspended a Houston player for playing a church rec-league game. The SB Nation main site explains that situation bluntly here.
Without Skara, Clemson went with an interesting starting lineup:
C: Mark Donnal (6’9”)
PF: Donte Grantham (6’8”)
SF: Gabe DeVoe (6’3”)
SG: Marcquise Reed (6’3”)
PG: Shelton Mitchell (6’3”)
It’s unclear why Mark Donnal, the graduate transfer from Michigan, got the start over Eli Thomas, but Thomas was certainly given starter minutes. That duo of 6’9” post players will be key to Clemson’s success. The Tigers outscored the Catamounts by 25 in the 16 minutes with Eli on the court and were outscored by 3 in the 14 minutes while Donnal was on the court. In fairness, Donnal looked solid, but isn’t the post presence that Thomas can be. Thomas looked to be in better shape this season (he looks slimmed down), and played well going 4-4 from the field and 3-4 from the line to finish with 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. He was the most impressive player, though ACC post defense is vastly different than Southern Conference post defense.
Donte Grantham led the team in scoring with 14 points finishing 3-3 from three and 2-3 from inside the arc. It appears he will not become the slasher who attacks the rim like we thought he may. He still looks slender and it’s unclear if he can play PF against top-tier opponents. Nevertheless, his season is off to a great start.
Gabe DeVoe looked good scoring 11 points in 20 minutes of play. He left he game with a knee injury, but later returned with a light knee brace and looked ok. Reed and Mitchell scored 10 and 6 points respectively. Mitchell led the team with 6 assists.
Clemson relied on a lot of youth for depth off the bench. Freshman Aamir Simms, the first player off the bench, led the team with 6 rebounds. AJ Oliver, Malik William, Scott Spencer, and Cycle Trapp all played. Spencer missed most of last season with injury so it was good to see him back and contributing. Cycle Trapp stood out for his ability to attack the basket off the dribble. He earned 5 free throw attempts in just 12 minutes.
Western Carolina came into the season ranked 261st in KenPom following a year in which they won just 9 games. KenPom projected a 19-point Clemson win and the Tigers topped it, winning by 28. It’s hard to take too much away from playing a team like WCU, but all you can ask them to do is dominate. Dominate they did.
The Tigers take to Littlejohn again on Sunday, and the competition level doesn’t step up. NC A&T projects to be one of the worst teams in the nation. It should be one more tune up before the Tigers head to Charleston next weekend for some legitimate competition.