In a game as choppy as my Facebook live feed, Clemson prevailed over the Akron Zips 72 to 69 in the first round of the Cayman Island Classic.
In a game that artificially tightened up late (Clemson was never in trouble), the Tigers held off a scrappy Zips team that provided some interesting match up problems. The first half of the game will not show up on any basketball instructional videos, as both teams struggled from the floor. Akron’s half court trapping defense caused some issues for Clemson, as they had difficulty getting into their offensive sets in a timely manner, causing quite a few rushed shots.
When the Tigers did eventually get into their offense, Akron has no answers for the physical size and strength advantage Clemson brought to the table at almost every position. It was nice to see Eli Thomas and Shelton Mitchell both get off to nice starts, as both players have struggled to find their offense early this season. Thomas, in particular, looked much better than he has so far this year as he works his way into playing shape after an early season injury. Mitchell was able to get into the lane and use his 6’4 frame to finish at the rim. The Tigers led 31-24 at the half and never relinquished lead.
The second half saw an offensive explosion by both squads. Clemson continued to methodically break down the Zips defense, with 4 of the 5 starters (Skara only had 2) putting up double digits. Akron, on the other hand, relied on diminutive point guard Lorn Christian Jackson for the majority of their points. Jackson got insanely hot from the outside in the last 5 minutes of the game and cut what was a commanding Clemson lead into the low single digits. He hit a 3 at the buzzer to make the game seem tighter on the score board than it was in the gym.
Overall, it was a rather ho-hum effort by the Tigers. It took the offense a while to get started, and even when things went well, the outside shooting was horrendous. Clemson will need to bring a little more shooting and execution to the table in the next round, with a potential match up with a decent Georgia squad looming.
Player of the Game
Elijah Thomas - 15 Pts, 12 Reb
This is the Thomas we’ve been looking for this season. He was dominant on the offensive glass, and probably should have put up at least 20, but he missed a few layups. I’ll go ahead and put that on his limited conditioning. Akron had no answer for the big man when he managed to get the ball in the post. Thomas showed off some nifty footwork on a few low post moves. You can tell he has been working hard on developing his back to the basket game this off season.
Clemson’s struggles from the perimeter kept them form blowing Akron out of the gym. Clemson shot a putrid 4-13 from 3 point territory. Shelton Mitchell remains mired in an early season shooting slump, going 1-5 for the day.
Clemson’s bench should terrify everyone right now. White, Tyson, Newman, and Trapp combined for 5 points, and Akron was able to real the Tigers in any time more less than 4 starters were on the floor. This will need to improve if Clemson wants to live up to their lofty preseason expectations.
Tuesday, November 29, 1:30 PM vs the winner of Georgia and Illinois State.