The Clemson Tigers (6-1) overcame a slow start to beat the visiting Morehead State Eagles (4-6) 66-51 at Littlejohn Monday afternoon. While the game was never in doubt, Clemson’s slow start and sloppy finish left room for improvement, especially on offense.
The Tigers came out of the gates cold, missing two of their first three shots and trailing an overmatched Morehead State squad. It wasn’t until coach Brad Brownell went to the bench (bringing in five new players at once) that the Tigers took a lead, reenergized by a Jonathan Baehre triple courtesy of Nick Honor (team-high 14 points, 2 ast, 2 stl). Then freshman PJ Hall contributed both of his buckets in the game, giving Clemson a 9-7 lead with just over 12 minutes left in the first half. Despite the lead and some slick play from Al-Amir Dawes (12 points), Clemson was unable to pull away.
The Eagles broke out a zone defense midway through the first half which gave the Tigers fits. Heading into the under-8 timeout Clemson was shooting below 30 percent from the field and had missed their last six shots, barely clinging to a lead. The Eagles would take the lead following the break to go up 16-14 with just under seven minutes left in the half.
Then, talent took over. Clemson’s stingy defense had been doing their thing all game and once the offense clicked it was over for the Eagles. Sparked by an Alex Hemenway 3-pointer, Clemson went on a 15-0 run which included a nasty fast break dunk from Clyde Trapp. The Tigers entered the halftime break leading 32-19.
The second half had the potential to get away from the Tigers but the steadying force of Aamir Simms (12 points, 10 rebounds), who added eight points in the first four minutes of the second half, out the game Morehead State from ever really getting back into it. It wasn’t a perfect game for Simms, who fouled out with 1:44 to play and had five turnovers, but his presence on the glass, pulling down five boards on offense and five defense, was key to the win.
After Simms’ burst to start the second half, Honor had the hot hand. He (5-6) and Simms (3-3) were the lone Tigers to make multiple field goals in the second frame. Honor’s layup to push the Clemson lead to 20 with just over six minutes to play would be their final field goal of the game as Clemson went cold once again, but rode out the victory.
It was a sloppy game, but the defense looked good and the Tigers avoided a let-down loss to an inferior opponent before the holiday break. We’ll take it.
During the game, Clemson was officially removed from the Top 25, which was expected following their loss to Virginia Tech. They still received 28 votes. Don’t be surprised to see the Tigers back in the top-25 if they can pull off wins over FSU and Miami next week.