The Tigers basketball season is off to a great start. After Clemson beat Mississippi State and Purdue beat Liberty in the first round of the Space Coast Challenge, the Tigers and Boilermakers met in the tournament championship game on Thanksgiving night.
Purdue was favored by 2.5 points and had a distinct height advantage, but the Tigers defense had the answer. Coach Brownell leveraged his roster’s improved depth, sending relentless ball pressure on defense and rotating in fresh bodies to keep it coming. Nick Honor in particular stood out. While they didn’t employ a full court trap, Honor, Dawes, and the other Tiger guards picked up defense before Purdue’s point guards could even cross half court. Honor ended the game with four steals and the Tigers forced 21 turnovers.
The Tigers held Purdue to just 28 first half points and took an eight point lead into the intermission. In the second half, Purdue made their run and tied the game at 46-46 with 12:42 remaining. It felt like an place for the Tigers to fold and the favorite to take over the game. Instead, Aamir Simms and Jonathan Baehre stepped up.
Simms who was held back by foul trouble in the season opening game against Mississippi State, got his opportunities in the second half against Purdue and ended as the game’s leading scorer with 24 points. Jonathan Baehre showcased his shooting touch knocking down two big three-pointers to rebuild Clemson’s lead. If he can stay healthy, the Tigers will have impressive depth in the front court with him, Simms, Hunter Tyson, and the impressive freshman PJ Hall.
The Tigers pushed the lead back to 12 (63-51) with 6:16 remaining and held off any further Boilermaker push from there. KenPom lists Aamir Simms as the game’s MVP as he led the team in points and assists, but Nick Honor also made a huge impact on both sides of the ball scoring 17 points while played exceptional defense. Baehre, Dawes, and Trapp also played well and finished with 11, 10, and 9 points respectively.
The win pushes Clemson to 2-0 and #29 in KenPom’s early rankings. The Tigers have one of the few easy games on their schedule coming Tuesday against South Carolina State. After that, they’ll face Maryland and Alabama before beginning conference play with Virginia Tech.
Beyond picking up the big resume-building win, this game told us a lot about the Tigers. With the improved depth on this year’s roster, Coach Brownell opted for quicker tempo on offense and more ball pressure on defense. That may be something we see a lot this year. If so, they’ll be a lot of fun to watch.
Jonathan Baehre looked healthy and was able to contribute at a high level. Point Guard Nick Honor is everything we hoped he would be. With him and a more experienced Al-Amir Dawes, the Tigers appear to have greatly improved point guard play. PJ Hall looks like the high-upside freshman phenom we we hoping for. There’s always reason to be cautious with your optimism for Clemson basketball, but it’s hard to keep it in check after a superb performance like this one.