The Tigers were back in Littlejohn Coliseum after an 18-point loss at #6 Louisville. Righting the ship at home wouldn’t be easy though, as Syracuse came in on a five-game winning streak that included road wins at Virginia and Virginia Tech (two teams they lost to earlier in the year when they weren’t playing as well).
Despite that, the Tigers were the team off to the hot start. They quickly built a seven-point lead (15-8) thanks in large part to strong starts from Tevin Mack and John Newman, each who finished the half with nine points.
Syracuse would steal the momentum though, thanks to their leading scorer Elijah Hughes. Knocking down two threes and five free throws in the first half, Hughes led a 9-0 Syracuse run that gave them a 25-20 lead. The teams traded baskets on the next few possessions and the half ended with the Orangemen holding a slim 35-33 lead over the Tigers.
Syracuse started the second half on a 10-2 run, putting Clemson in a 45-35 hole, but rather than fade away, Clemson responded. Tevin Mack, who came into the game with more 3-point shots than 2-point shots, attacked the post aggressively, fought hard for offensive rebounds, and earned tough points around the basket to spearhead a comeback. His lay-up with 9:19 remaining capped a 12-4 run that gave Clemson a 53-52 lead.
From there, the game was back-and-forth with neither team going up by more than three points the rest of the way. A major factor down the stretch was the foul trouble of Syracuse’s big men. Both Marek Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibie fouled out, taking away offensive threats and key rebounding contributors.
With the game tied at 67 and only 1:34 remaining, Syracuse’s Joseph Girard III sank a deep 3-pointer and gave the crowd the “shhhhh” hand gesture.
Simms responded by knocking down his only bucket of the entire game, slicing the deficit to one point. After a Syracuse shot went in and out with just 7 seconds left, Khavon Moore grabbed the rebound and led a fast break as the clock ticked away. He took it all the way into the paint before hitting a cutting Clyde Trapp. Trapp absorbed contact, maintained focus, and buried the lay-in to put Clemson ahead.
With just 2.3 seconds remaining, Syracuse had to in-bound the ball across the court and get off the game-winning shot. It was all setting up for the ultimate heartbreak. They heaved it cross-court and it looked like Tevin Mack had intercepted it, but he couldn’t maintain control and the ball bounced out of bounds off his hands. After a very lengthy review, 0.9 was put back on the clock so Syracuse would have enough time for a quick catch and shoot to win the game. On the ensuing in-bounds play, Clemson played excellent defense, only allowing an off-balance fade away shot from nearly half court - an air ball!
The Tigers hung on for a thrilling 71-70 victory to improve to 5-5 in the ACC and 11-9 overall.
The win was enabled by Tevin Mack’s stellar performance - easily his best of the season. He burnt the 2-3 zone in the high-post and along the base line. He was gritty and and finished around the rim all night en route to scoring 32 points (23 in the second half). He finished 12-17 from the field and 7-8 from the free throw line, a highly efficient performance. He also finished with 10 rebounds, 6 coming on the offensive glass.
Clyde Trapp, who hit the game-winning shot, was excellent in the second half. His defense stood out, and his offense finally came to life after some serious struggles in the past few games. Not only did he finish with 17 points, but he tallied 6 assists. Simms and Moore each scored two points in the second half. Trapp and Mack accounted for all 34 other second half points. They needed every one of them!
The Tigers are back in action on Saturday as they go to Winston-Salem looking to earn their second ACC road win in the state of North Carolina this season.