The Tigers got some good news just before tip off as they learned Marquise Reed would be available off the bench after missing the past two games with a knee injury. That would end up being a huge factor.
For much of the first half it was a back-and-forth affair. At times it felt like the Gamecocks were in control as Carlos Silva drew foul after foul in the paint. He was 8-11 from the free throw line in the first half. Meanwhile, Eli Thomas played sparingly after picking up his second foul while going for a rebound early on.
The Gamecocks started 4-8 from three while the Tigers did little from behind the arc. It was much of the same struggles that we’ve seen to this point of the season, and the Cocks led 30-29, but then the momentum shifted. With Eli Thomas on the bench, the Tigers found their shooting touch and went on a run.
Three-pointers from Mitchell and Newman got them going. Skara hit a pair from beyond the arc himself and Reed closed the first half scoring with a pair of free throws in the closing seconds. The Tigers ended the half on a 16-4 run that gave them a 45-34 lead. Despite having 10 first half turnovers and playing most of the half with Eli Thomas on the bench, the Tigers were in control. Marquise Reed looked comfortable, despite the bulky knee brace he wore as he scored 13 points in 13 first half minutes.
The Tigers wouldn’t build upon their 11 point lead in the second half. Instead, the Cocks slowly chipped away. While Silva led the way in the first half, it was often Alanzo Frink, a 6’8” freshman PF from NJ making plays in the post in the second half. He’s a player who will make an impact in this rivalry for the next couple years.
South Carolina reduced the deficit to five points as the clock ticked under 4:00 remaining. Interestingly, Coach Frank Martin made the conservative decision to keep Carlos Silva on the bench with four fouls until the 3:14 mark. Once he checked in, things figured to get dicey, but the Tigers responded and never let it get any closer. Reed hit a floater to push the Tiger lead to 73-66 with 1:43 remaining and Clemson held on for a 78-68 win after a few trips to the charity stripe.
Here are some take-aways from the road win:
- Marquise Reed’s return was huge. He scored 20 points and had four assists.
- Eli Thomas looks like an NBA-talent in the post, but he seems to always be in foul trouble. In reality, he is committing 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes, which is an improvement from last season. The offense needs him more this season so when he is out, it’s more noticeable.
- The referees likely frustrated both fan bases. They weren’t lopsided, but were quite aggressive in calling fouls. The game would have looked much different if Eli and Silva played double the minutes. Thankfully, Reed returned so the Tigers had a go-to scorer while Thomas was out while the Cocks did not.
- The Tigers’ veteran guards didn’t let the aggressive defensive pressure that prompted the Cocks’ comeback bother them in crunch time. They avoided the bad turnovers South Carolina was looking for while grabbing them on the defensive end.
- Clemson freshman combined for 5 points while transfer Javan White added two. The Tigers depth is a weakness at this point.
- It’s amazing how quickly South Carolina has fallen since their Final Four run. The Tigers own a three-game win streak. Coach Brownell must parlay this into improved recruiting in the state. If Clemson can win more in-state battles he can build positive momentum at Clemson. A second-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance would go a long way as well.
- The win pushes the Tigers to 9-3 while the Gamecocks fall to 4-7. South Carolina is on a four-game losing streak and is unlikely to even make the NIT. The Tigers win was about surviving the non-conference slate. A loss here would have been devastating. Non-conference play hasn’t gone as we’d hope (no resume building wins), but the team is rounding into form and the NCAA tournament is still very much within reach.
- Next, Clemson gets Lipscomb on Sunday before beginning ACC play against Duke.