Three in a row: Tigers topple ranked Cardinals

by - Staff Writer -
Avry Holmes and Jaron Blossomgame celebrate the win (Photo by Josh Kelly, USAT)
Avry Holmes and Jaron Blossomgame celebrate the win (Photo by Josh Kelly, USAT)

GREENVILLE, SC – Clemson is gaining momentum in the rugged ACC.

The Tigers held off a furious rally late and defeated No. 16 Louisville 66-62 in dramatic fashion Saturday afternoon at the Bon Secours Wellness Center, improving to 10-6 overall and 3-1 in the ACC. Louisville dropped to 13-3 overall and 2-1 in the ACC.

The win is Clemson’s third consecutive ACC victory and the first over a ranked opponent this season. Jaron Blossomgame led four players in double digits with 17 points. Avry Holmes had 16 points, Donte Grantham has 12 points and Jordan Roper scored 10 as the Tigers hit just 14-of-43 field goals (32.6%).

However, Clemson shot 44 free throws in the contest, hitting 32 of them (73%), including six of the last eight. Louisville made just 3-of-23 three-point attempts.

The Tigers have now beaten FSU, Louisville and Syracuse early in ACC play.

The one bright spot for Louiville was Chinanu Onuaku. He hit his first four shots, and got eight boards in the first half. Onuaku finished with 14 points and 10 boards before fouling out.

The Tigers held a 54-43 lead at the final media timeout, but the Cardinals refused to go away, fouling and hitting shots late in the game, making it a two-point game with five seconds to play.

Newcomer Avry Holmes hit two free throws with three seconds remaining to seal the victory.

Head coach Brad Brownell, who picked up win No. 100 at Clemson, was ecstatic with the Tiger victory.

“We are playing much better and learning to handle adversity,” he said. “We are understanding our team a little bit better and gaining our confidence. This was a good win for us.”

Brownell said the Tigers are playing with confidence.

"Well, just a really terrific defensive performance by our team today. I thought the first 30 minutes of the game, we guarded about as well as you can guard," Brownell said. "We frustrated them a little bit, it helps that (Chinanu) Onuaku was in foul trouble. I thought our guys settled down a little bit, I thought we were a little edgy at the beginning, had a few bad plays and careless turnovers. The longer the game went, the more our guys just believed and got comfortable and played to win. Louisville made it interesting at the end, but you knew they would. Rick’s (Pitino) teams always fight you to the end, and fortunately we were able to make enough free throws to win.”

Louisville raced out a 8-0 lead to begin the game, but Grantham hit back-to-back threes for the first Clemson baskets, making it 8-7 with 15:14 to play in the opening half.

The Cardinals extended their lead to 14-7 at the 11:21 mark, but failed to score over the next four-plus minutes, allowing Clemson back in the game. Holmes was 4-for-4 from the free throw line and back-to-back treys by Gratham and Holmes ended the Clemson run, giving the Tigers a 19-14 lead with 6:26 to play in the half.

The Tigers only made two baskets over the remaining six minutes, but made eight free throws, extending their lead to 31-25 at intermission.

Clemson only allowed two baskets by the Cardinals over the first seven minutes of the second half, while the Tigers went on an 8-0 run during a four-minute span in racing out to a 43-29 lead with 13:02 to play in the contest.

The Cardinals and Tigers traded baskets for much of the final ten minutes as Clemson made only one shot from the field - a Blossomgame layup - during the final six minutes of the game.

However, the Tigers got the job done from the free throw line – making 19-of-29 from the charity stripe in the second half, including 17 during the final five minutes.

“The numbers are a little skewed by the fact that the last three and a half minutes of the game, they were trying to trap us and foul us and make us make a million free throws," Brownell said. "It was a little bit of the Jim Valvano philosophy. We had a stretch there where we missed a few that opened the door for them to get back in it. It is always hard to guard the last four minutes of the game when you are up eight or 10 points and the other team is coming downhill on you, where you tell your guys don’t give up threes, don’t give up lay-ups, don’t give up offensive rebounds, don’t give up this or that and the other team is just playing loose because they are behind the eight-ball in the game. Obviously, we struggled a little bit with that, they made a few more plays, but fortunately for us I thought we did handle the ball well against the press the last eight minutes of the game, we were able to get the ball inbounds, didn’t turn it over for points and made enough free throws to win.”

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said the officials might have been swayed by the Clemson crowd.

“You have to worry about their three-point shooting, 35 percent of their shots are threes, you have to be up on them. Unfortunately, we gave the righty the right hand and the lefty the left hand," Pitino said. "We fouled them, but I thought they fouled us a few times but we didn’t get it. I guess this roaring, raucous crowd kept those referees on guard.”

Clemson hosts Duke Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Bon Secours Wellness Center in Greenville. The Tigers then host Miami next Saturday.

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