Florida State entered the game ranked No. 18 with a 5-1 (1-0) record that included quality wins over Florida, Indiana, and Georgia Tech. The Seminoles were seeking revenge after getting upset in Littlejohn last season when they were ranked No. 6, and then having their ACC Tournament game against the Tigers cancelled due to the pandemic.
From the start, this game was characterized by gritty defense. It took Florida State nearly five minutes to score their first points of the game. The teams went into the first TV timeout with Clemson leading 4-2 with 14:45 remaining in the half.
From there the tempo picked up and the points began to trickle in. A quick three-pointer from FSU was followed-up with a cross-out pass that beat Clemson’s full-court pressure and led to a slam dunk. With that, the Seminoles grabbed their first lead at 7-6. They led for the majority of the half, benefiting from Clemson’s poor shooting. The Tigers finished the first half just 2-15 (.133) from three and 9-35 (.257) from the field overall.
Despite that, the Tigers only trailed by five (34-29) thanks to defensive pressure that sped up the Seminoles and forced 11 turnovers. Clyde Trapp, who entered averaging a disappointing 6.0 points per game, scored 7 in the first half to lead all scorers (tied with MJ Walker’s 7 points). Nick Honor and Al-Amir Dawes were scoreless in the half.
The Tigers quickly erased the five point deficit in the opening minutes of the second half. The lead traded hands throughout the half from there. Following an ugly turnover from John Newman, Florida State scored to tie the game at 54 apiece. Newman quickly redeemed himself with a nice assist on a Nick Honor three-pointer with 7:05 remaining. It was his first field goal of the game and sign of things to come. Newman added to his redemption with a layup (assisted by Prosper) on the next possession. Nick Honor then came up with a steal in the backcourt thanks to his patented full court pressure and turned it into a trip to the free throw line. He made one of two and suddenly the Tigers had built a six point lead with 6:20 remaining.
Still leading by six with 3:14 remaining, Nick Honor knocked down one of the biggest shots of the night, a dagger three-pointer. Clemson followed it up by drawing a charging foul to get the ball back with their now comfortable nine-point lead with only 2:21 remaining. From there, Brownell loudly urged his players (namely Honor who often takes spot up jumpers in transition) to take their time and burn clock. Trapp would knock down the Tigers last field goal of the game to give them an eight point lead with 1:20 remaining. Nick Honor added two free throws to make it a 10-point victory.
Trapp led all scorers with 15 points. He was 6-8 from the free throw line, hauled in 6 rebounds, and had 3 steals. The all-around effort made for his best game of the season and earned him KenPom’s game MVP designation. Nick Honor and Al-Amir Dawes each had big second half performances. Honor finished with 13 points and Dawes added 11. The point guard duo gave the Tigers 5 of the team’s 7 three-pointers on the game (including all of the Tigers’ second half three-pointers).
Simms had a relatively quiet night scoring 8 points on just 5 shots. He led the team with 11 rebounds. Last year, a quiet offensive night from Simms coupled with 29% shooting from three would have spelled doom. This year, the Tiger’s defense, which now ranks 2nd nationally, can keep them in the game. They forced 17 turnovers and when Honor and Dawes found their touch in the second half, the Tigers took control of the game. Clemson is now ranked No. 17 by KenPom and with a win over Miami on Saturday should see themselves in the AP top 25.