It was an ugly early-season performance for Clemson plagued by poor shooting and sloppy turnovers ... until it wasn’t.
With less than eight minutes to play, the Tigers trailed TCU 52-37 and seemed well on their way to a disappointing defeat to open the MGM Resorts Main Event late Sunday night.
But from there, it was all Clemson — almost unbelievably so.
The Tigers held the Horned Frogs scoreless for the final 7:39 while scoring 15 points of their own to tie the game in the final minute.
Clemson implemented a full-court press that stymied the TCU offense and allowed the Tigers to gradually creep back into the game, and back-to-back threes from Tevin Mack and Curran Scott cut the lead to six with three minutes to go. In the final minute, Clemson converted yet another TCU turnover into the game-tying basket — a reverse layup by Mack off a beautiful feed from freshman point guard Al-Amir Dawes.
After TCU leading scorer Desmond Bane missed a pair of free throws with four seconds left, Clemson amazingly had a chance to win in regulation.
Aamir Simms’ full-speed charge down the court ended with his layup attempt being blocked at the rim, but the Tigers still had all the momentum they could ask for heading into the extra period.
TCU bounced back, however, and Edric Dennis buried a deep three with 2:40 remaining to give the Frogs a 60-56 lead. But the Tigers refused to let their comeback go for naught.
Simms knocked down two free throws on Clemson’s next possession, and after a defensive stop, Dawes hit the biggest shot of his young career — a three-pointer that gave Clemson a 61-60 lead with 1:33 to play.
It wasn’t easy from there, as the Tigers were unable to capitalize on their subsequent defensive stops due to a 0-4 stretch at the free-throw line by Dawes and Simms.
TCU had the ball with a chance to win the game, but a flurry of attempts at the rim ended with a Mack rebound with 0.8 seconds left that secured the win for Clemson.
Mack continued the impressive start to his graduate campaign at Clemson, scoring 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting including five three-pointers. He also added nine rebounds.
Simms had a shooting performance to forget — he was just 3 for 15 from the field — but still managed 13 points and 12 rebounds while chipping in a team-high 7 assists.
TCU was led by Dennis and Bane, who scored 18 and 17 points, respectively.
Clemson will face No. 23 Colorado for the championship of the Las Vegas event on Tuesday at 11:30 p.m. EST.