Don’t wait until the College Football Playoff is over, it’s time to get excited about Tiger basketball. The Hardwood Tigers put together an exceptional performance to blowout the Gamecocks, 64-48, just three days after traveling to Florida and beating the Gators.
The Tiger defense held the Gamecocks to just 8 points through the game’s first 9 minutes to grab an early 17-8 lead. South Carolina countered with an 11-2 run to bring the game to a 19-19 tie at the 5:44 mark of the first half. That’s when Clemson took over.
Marquise Reed, scoreless to that point, scored the game’s next 7 points. The teams traded a few more blows before going into the halftime with the Tigers leading 31-26. The first half was marked by defense and turnovers with the teams combining for 17 turnovers.
The theme didn’t change in the second half as it took nearly four minutes before the first field goal. Over the next six and half minutes (16:15 - 9:45), the Tigers stretched their lead from five points to 13 points (45-32). Frank Martin’s squad had no answers and seemed to get rattled. They began giving up easy buckets as Clemson’s crowd began getting louder and louder.
The game was over when Donte Grantham grabbed a defensive rebound and delivered a perfect outlet pass to Gabe DeVoe. DeVoe aggressively attacked in transition and finished with a lay-up to put the Tigers up 16-points (57-41) with under five minutes remaining. From there the rout was on! The lead would balloon to as many as 19 (62-43) in the final minutes.
Clemson guards led the way. Shelton Mitchell chipped in 10 while Gabe DeVoe added 12. Marquise Reed was the player of the game, scoring a career-high 25 points to go with 6 rebounds and 3 steals. Reed did most of his damage from three (5-9) and from the free throw line (8-11).
Along with Reed’s big offensive night, the story of the game was Clemson’s defense. After being a huge liability last season (ranking 86th in defensive efficiency), Clemson’s defense looks much improved. They finished the contest with 8 blocks and 9 steals while holding the Gamecocks to just 35.2% shooting (2-16 from three). Thomas had 5 blocks and 3 steals. The Tigers rank 21st in defensive efficiency after this performance. Those numbers include just two games with PF David Skara, who was ineligible for the first nine games of the season. As promised, he looks like one of the better defensive players on the team. He had two blocks in this game.
In Coach Craft’s season preview, we broke the schedule into three parts:
- Tier 1 games, where we hope to win 25%-30%.
- Tier 2 games, where we hope to win 75%-80%.
- Tier 3 games, where we hope to win 100%.
So far Clemson is 2-0 in Tier 1 games (at Ohio State, at Florida), 2-1 in Tier 2 games (Charleston Classic), and with a win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Friday (KenPom projects over an 85% chance the Tigers win) 6-0 in Tier 3 games for an impressive 11-1 non-conference record.
ACC play will be tougher and we have seen that non-conference play is not a great indicator of how this team will do against ACC competition. Nonetheless, we’ve seen individual player improvement across the board and there is real reason for optimism.