Clemson led by 7 points with 0:51 remaining, but had a meltdown that sent the game to overtime. Rather than fold, they rallied and saved their season with an exciting double-OT victory over a Penn State team that entered the game ranked 33rd in the nation by KenPom.
The Tigers started the game slow and trailed for nearly the entire first half. Penn State took a 5-3 lead less than 3 minutes into the game and built on it from there. The Nittany Lions led 35-25 with 2:23 left in the first half. Clemson cut the lead to 6 by halftime and went into the break within striking distance. Chase Hunter and Hunter Tyson were held without a field goal in the first half so trailing by only 6 felt lucky.
In the second half, Clemson started relying on their size and strength in the front court. Hunter Tyson opening the scoring with his first points of the game, a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 3, 35-32. PJ Hall scored the next 4 points for Clemson before reserve center Ben Middlebrooks scored their next 6. The stretch provided some of the best play we’ve seen from Middlebrooks since he joined the program. A Hunter Tyson jumper made the score 44-40 with 13:44 remaining as the Clemson frontcourt scored the Tigers’ last 12 points.
Clemson was in control at that point and extended the lead to 56-48 with 7:22 remaining. Penn State cut the lead to 64-62, but two Chase Hunter free throws and a Hunter Tyson 3-pointer gave Clemson a 69-62 lead with only 0:51 remaining.
The usual foul-fest ensued as Penn State tried to extend the game. Unfortunately, the referees had an extremely quick whistle all night and rather than backing off and “letting them play” in the final minutes as is often the case, they got even more sensitive to contact. Clemson needed to avoid fouling, but couldn’t and Penn State went 4-4 from the free throw line in those final 51 seconds. Meanwhile, they intentionally fouled Clemson and benefitted from Ian Schieffelin going 1-2, Brevin Galloway going 0-2, and then Hunter Tyson going 1-2. That allowed them to cut the lead to 3 and in the final seconds setting up Andrew Funk’s off-balance bank shot 3-pointer to send the game into overtime.
After a poor first half, Hunter Tyson got better as the game went along and made several big shots in overtime. He played a game-high 47 minutes and finished with a team-high 24 points. PJ Hall’s time was limited through most of regulation, but Coach Brownell let him lead the way in the overtime sessions. He knocked down 2 clutch free throws to tie the game late in the first OT and then added a lay-up with just 5 seconds left to send it to double-OT. He finished with 22 points in just 25 minutes.
Chase Hunter had a night to forget. He was 1-12 with 7 points and fouled out in overtime. Fortunately, Josh Beadle stepped up and had two tremendous blocked shots in overtime. After failing to knock down clutch free throws in regulation, Clemson knocked them down in double-OT to seal the 101-94 win.
If the Tigers had folded after blowing a 7-point lead with under a minute to go, one might have said “pack it up” for this season and they probably would have been right. Fortunately, they displayed incredible mental toughness and fight. They now have a quality non-conference win and enter ACC play on Friday against Wake Forest with momentum.