The Cardinals entered the game tied for first place in the ACC at 12-2 and already beat Clemson by 20 earlier in the season. The Tigers were at home this time though, so we expected them to put up more fight and at least keep it competitive. They did more than that. After trading a few early buckets, the Tiger defense locked down and had one of their best defensive halves in years.
They held the #5 ranked Cardinals to a season-low 14 first half points. Louisville was an atrocious 5-32 shooting the half. Louisville’s star player, Jordan Nwora, went 0-3 in a scoreless half after coming off the bench for the first time all season.
For the Tigers, John Newman led the way in the first half with 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals. Tevin Mack knocked in two first half 3-pointers en route to 10 points in the half. The Tigers were just 3-10 from 3-point territory, but carried a 31-14 lead into halftime thanks to great defense, persistence in attacking the basket, and a newfound ability to finish in transition.
Just 90 seconds into the second half, Aamir Simms picked up his second and third fouls and exited the game, opening the door for a Louisville run. Instead, Trey Jemison held his own and the Tigers extended their lead to 40-19 at the 14:50 mark.
The Cardinals wouldn’t fade away though. They chipped away until the lead was down to 10. You could feel the tension in Littlejohn Coliseum, but a Mack jumper, Simms 3-pointer, and Newman 3-pointer came back-to-back-to-back and pushed the lead to 18. After a Louisville layup, Alex Hemenway drilled a 3-pointer to make the lead 19 points and prompt a Louisville timeout as they looked to gather themselves and make one last push as the game entered its final 6:47.
The Cardinals worked the lead down to 12 points with 4:46 remaining, but Alex Hemenway nailed another 3-pointer and Newman followed with a 3-point play on the next Clemson possession to end the scare and put the game out of reach for good. After a handful of fouls and free throw attempts, Clemson held on for a relatively comfortable 77-62 win.
John Newman was the player of the game. He attacked the basket all game and secured 7 rebounds - playing like someone much bigger than 6’5”. He also was 2-3 from 3-point territory and was a perfect 7-7 from the free throw line. Mack and Simms finished with 14 and 13 points, respectively. Freshman Alex Hemenway finished 3-6 from the field as he continues to grow into a consistent contributor.
The Tigers held the ACC’s leading scoring, Jordan Nwora, to just 5 points, all coming in garbage time. Dwayne Sutton led the way for the Cardinals with 18 points.
The win pushes the Tigers to 13-12 overall and 7-8 in the ACC with five games remaining (@BC, @GT, FSU, @VT, GT). They’ve been terribly inconsistent, but have some of the best wins we’ve seen in years: @UNC, Duke, Syracuse, Louisville. It’s been a strange year and while an NCAA tournament bid is extremely improbable and an NIT bid somewhat improbable too, it’s good to see such a young team take major strides as the year progresses.
Although graduate transfers Tevin Mack and Curran Scott depart after this season, the rest of the team is back. Jonathan Baehre and Chase Hunter will return from injury, Nick Honor will be eligible to play (after sitting out this season following his transfer from Fordham), and Brownell’s strongest recruiting class will join the fray. If the Tigers can end this season strong, there will be a lot of momentum going into what could be a big 2020-21 season! For now though, let’s just enjoy the second top 5 wins of the season, something that hasn’t happened twice in the same year since 1980.