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Clemson overcomes sluggish performance to top Mississippi State

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The Tigers looked rusty on offense but locked down defensively to advance to the Space Coast Challenge championship game.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Tournament-Miami-Florida at Clemson
Hunter Tyson earned the start and led the Tigers with eight rebounds.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Freshman PJ Hall scored 10 points and pulled down 7 rebounds off the bench, and Clemson managed to grind out a 53-42 win to advance in the Space Coast Challenge on Wednesday night.

The Tigers surely hoped to put on a more aesthetically pleasing performance in their season opener, but it was a struggle on the offensive end for most of the night.

Preseason All-ACC selection Aamir Simms was essentially a non-participant in the game, as he picked up two fouls in the opening minutes and fouled out in just eight total minutes on the court. Fortunately Hall was ready to fill the void, scoring his 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and looking every bit the high-level prospect he was touted to be.

Al-Amir Dawes also chipped in 10 points, with Nick Honor adding 8 off the bench, but Clemson shot just 35 percent from the field as a team and a paltry 20 percent from 3-point range.

Fortunately for the Tigers, Mississippi State had an even tougher time on offense. The Bulldogs shot just 30 percent from the field and made just 8 of their 27 free-throw attempts while turning the ball over 19 times.

Clemson overcame an inauspicious start to take a 26-19 lead at the half, and a 13-2 second-half run gave the Tigers a 46-30 lead with 9:13 left in the game. Though it was never pretty, they were able to keep Mississippi State at arm’s length from there and moved to 1-0 on the season.

Clemson will face Purdue in the tournament championship Thursday night at 8:30.

TAKEAWAYS:

-Clemson played hard, but this was overall just a bad performance, especially on the offensive end. The Tigers shot the ball poorly from 3-point range yet continued to take those shots. Aside from Honor (2 for 8 from three), it’s just a bunch of guys missing a couple, but this is still not a team that needs to rely that heavily on 3-point shooting. As with most seasons, it’s largely a group of streak shooters. When the threes are falling, great. When they aren’t, you have to look for other ways to score. That said, a ton of these were completely wide-open misses. It’s hard to tell players not to shoot those. Clemson was fortunate to be playing a down Mississippi State team that is in rebuild mode. Any decent team probably would have beaten the Tigers tonight.

-It’s just one game, but PJ Hall looks like the real deal. While we can’t expect him to shoot 83 percent from the floor every night, the freshman looked very comfortable and posted an efficient 10 points and 7 boards. Very encouraging performance for a player who is a huge part of the Tigers’ future, and evidently their present as well.

-Simms couldn’t get out of his own way with the fouls. It was really a comedy of errors, as he just could not stay on the court. The upside is that he should be well rested for Purdue. The bad news is that the Boilermakers aren’t any easier to avoid fouls against. The Tigers’ senior leader has to make sure he stays on the court tomorrow night and going forward.

-Clemson allowed an alarming 16 offensive rebounds. Mississippi State was able to convert some second chances, but many times the Tigers put the Bulldogs at the free-throw line —where they were incredibly inept the entire evening. If you can’t keep Mississippi State off the glass, you’re going to struggle mightily doing so with Purdue. And presumably the Boilermakers will be much more capable at the charity stripe. Clemson has to find a way to limit those opportunities.