The game started with dominant defense from both teams. Seemingly every shot throughout the first 10 minutes was contested and out of rhythm. This stretch was capped off with a Marquise Reed one-handed slam getting blocked and the resulting transition lay-up rattling out for Louisville. The Tigers held a slim 10-9 lead after 10 minutes.
The dominant defense began to recede, but neither offense could find a rhythm. The Tigers took a brief 21-15 lead with 4:51 remaining in the half, but enter the half tied at 23. There were no free throws in the first half as the refs allowed the teams to battle in a physical defense game.
After the Tigers led most of the first half, Louisville seized the momentum early in the second. A Gabe DeVoe missed lay-up which quickly led to a transition bucket for the Cardinals. On the ensuing possession, Marquise Reed missed a jumper and flopped to the ground hoping for a bailout foul call. There was no such call. The Cardinals stretched their lead to five points at the 16:00 minute timeout. The crowd grew worried and restless. They rose to their feet and urged the Tigers on. Would they respond?
Yes. Resoundingly yes.
The Tigers defense dug their heels in, backed by a suddenly raucous crowd, and created turnovers. Eli Thomas chipped in a lay-up. Reed tied it at 30-30 with a three-pointer. Grantham added a three-point play. Reed and Mark Donnal would each add field goals to cap off the 12-2 run. It gave the Tigers a 37-32 lead. The crowd roared! The sideline student section was packed and on their feet. It felt like the 2007-2010 Littlejohn Coliseum for the first time in ages.
At a break in the action during this run, the Roto-Rooter promo asked a student to make a cross-court putt for $10,000. He couldn’t miss either, drilling the 94-foot putt across hardwood for the cash! Nobody wearing a paw could miss. This fueled the crowd even more!
The Tigers held tight to their lead into the final three minutes. Then things went a little haywire. DeVoe drove into the paint and found Eli Thomas on the other side of the basket. A bucket would have given the Tigers a solid four-point lead. He delivered a quick pass, but Eli Thomas fumbled it leading to a transition lay-up for Deng Adel. It tied the game at 53. The teams would trade scores, and then the Tigers needed a big defensive stop to keep it tied. Clemson’s defense rose to the occasion with the tough man-to-man defense they played the entire game. Unfortunately, Eli Thomas panicked with the ball following the rebound and threw it away. Now, with just under 30 seconds remaining, the Tigers would need yet another stop. They forced a long jumper, which would clank off the left of the rim. The Cardinals missed their opportunity.
In overtime, the Tigers offense exploded. The threes they missed all night began to fall. Following a Marquise Reed steal, Gabe DeVoe hit a three from the right corner. On the next Tiger possession, it was once again Gabe DeVoe from the right corner with a three-point dagger to put the Tigers up eight. The game would close with an anti-climatic free throw shooting contest. The Tigers made enough to hold on for a 74-69 over the 11-4 Louisville Cardinals.
This contest was marked by fantastic defense, especially by the Tigers who finished with 16 steals. Marquise Reed led the way with five of those steals and a game-high 24 points. Eli Thomas, despite the late game mishaps, was also crucial in the victory. He scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Gabe DeVoe finished with 13 points, six coming on the two big OT three-pointers.
The win pushes Clemson to 14-1 (3-0). They’re now squarely in early NCAA tournament discussion. This team is showing “Clemson Grit,” matching the early Brownell-years defense with last year’s offensive talent. On any given night, a different player can be the leading scorer. They’re showing great chemistry and with that, the season holds great promise. Next up, Clemson goes to NC State for a 9:00 pm ESPN game on Friday.