The Clemson Tigers improved to 2-0 late Friday night, battling to a victory over UAB in the Asheville Championship semifinal, 77-76. In a game that had loss written all over it, the Tigers never quit en route to a comeback win over the Blazers.
Clemson was ice cold out the gate, only hitting on one of their 10 3-point attempts in the first half. The Blazers took control of the game with five minutes remaining in the half, claiming a lead that would last deep into the second half.
Clemson shot better in the second half, but still only finished with six made 3-pointers. Alex Hemenway and Joe Girard combined to go just 1-6 from 3-point range. Clemson was down by nine on a couple of occasions in the second half. They found themselves relying on their veterans to squeak out a win against a pesky team in November. Hall and Hunter answered the bell to perfection.
Clemson trailed 67-58 at the 7:01 mark, but went on a 14-0 run to earn a five point edge with 3:48 remaining. Chauncey Wiggins, who made a big 3-pointer during the run, went to the line with a chance to put Clemson up by 7 with just 3:04 remaining, but missed both shots. UAB promptly went on a 6-0 run to claim a 1-point lead with under 45 seconds remaining in the game. In desperate need of a bucket, PJ Hall secured a clutch offensive rebound and attacked the basket. He made a lay-up while drawing a foul and converted the free throw for a three-point play. It gave Clemson a 2-point lead.
It did not last long. Star guard for the Blazers, “Butta” Johnson, stuck the landing on a 3-pointer with nine seconds to go to give UAB a 1-point lead. With the game on the line and 9 seconds remaining, Chase Hunter raced across the court and drew a shooting foul with three seconds remaining. He knocked down both clutch free throws. UAB did not get off a good shot in the final seconds and Clemson secured the hard-fought win.
PJ Hall was everywhere offensively, scoring a game-high 27 and was just one point shy of matching his career-high. He was also dominant on the boards, totaling nine rebounds. Hall brought that same intensity to the defensive side of the ball, all three blocks came late in the second half. Hall’s great start to the season is validating why he is considered a premier big in the ACC. His statement performance is a huge reason why the Tigers survived in Asheville.
Chase Hunter is who the Tigers trust with the game on the line and for good reason. The man has an entire catalog of clutch moments, which he added to with Friday night’s free throws. Hunter concluded the contest with 16 points and four assists.
Joe Girard has yet to make his stamp on the season, scoring just six points, but excelled as a floor general once again for Clemson.
RJ Godfrey only played 16 minutes but had the best plus/minus in the stat sheet. His defense on Eric Gaines down the stretch was crucial.
UAB came out running an extended 1-3-1 zone on defense, which caused the majority of Clemson’s problems in the first half. The Tigers were getting the looks they wanted but couldn’t cash in. Once the shots started falling, the experience of this Clemson team showed, basically willing themselves to victory.
The Tigers will need another total team effort as they take on Davidson in the Asheville Championship final. The Wildcats were able to knock off Maryland earlier on Friday night in impressive fashion. Clemson and Davidson are set for a 3:00pm Sunday tip.