Clemson has proven it's up for any challenge with Final Four berth on the line
Chase Hunter has led Clemson in scoring in each game this NCAA Tournament. "To be playing my best basketball right now is everything for me," Hunter said.

Clemson has proven it's up for any challenge with Final Four berth on the line

by - Staff Writer -

LOS ANGELES - Clemson men’s basketball heard the message loud and clear, and now they’re carrying it out.

Earlier this week in LA, Brad Brownell recalled a team meeting after a swoon to start the 2024 calendar year, where his Tigers went from 11-1 overall and 1-0 in ACC play to 14-7 and 4-6 by early February. That stretch featured three losses by three or fewer points, but it also had double-digit defeats at Miami and Virginia Tech.

His message then? Clemson is a Final Four team. His team now? One win away from that goal, a first for the program.

“It’s amazing,” Tigers graduate forward Jack Clark said in the wake of Clemson’s 77-72 victory over 2-seed Arizona Thursday. “Coach Brownell always talks about, ‘We’re a Final Four team. We’re a Final Four team.’ And the fact that we’re one game away, it’s an amazing feeling.”

Clemson got to the Elite Eight stage and a rematch with 4-seed Alabama (8:49 EDT on Saturday/TBS) by pulling off three consecutive Vegas upsets, flipping a 7.5-point spread on its head to the Sweet 16 win. The Tigers will again be an underdog against the Crimson Tide (+3.5 as of Friday afternoon).

At each interval so far, Brownell saw a team that bought in.

“I just think our guys have a lot of belief in each other, and I certainly have a lot of belief in my team,” Brownell said. “And we're playing good basketball right now. And anything can happen in these tournaments. You've got to have really good players. I have good players. When you have players you try to do the best job you can as a coach to put them in positions to be successful. And when these guys capitalize like they have been, good things are going to happen.”

Clemson captured two road Top 10 wins by the NCAA's NET metric this campaign, and they both happened to be over fellow West Region semifinalists Alabama (85-77) and North Carolina (80-76). Add those to the tournament run thus far and you find a confident Tigers team.

“We’re one of the top teams in the country. We know we can go in day-in and day-out and play with anybody,” said Dillon Hunter, who capped Clemson’s Thursday win with a late layup. “We feel like anybody in front of us – we don’t care about anything. Names, nothing like that. We’re just going out and playing as hard as we can.”

“I think we’ve proven that we can beat anybody,” Clemson senior guard and Dillon’s brother, Chase, said. “We’ve proven that throughout the season, but we’ve had some ups and downs. In this tournament, our confidence level is high, and we’re ready to play anybody. I think it’s just a testament to our coaches that they get us prepared for each game, and we just go out there and make the plays.”

The elder Hunter kept his streak of leading Clemson scoring intact this tournament on Thursday, punctuating his performance with a hoop-and-harm to put the Tigers up by five with 25 seconds left. He has shot at least 50% in each NCAAs game, averaging 19.6 points and dishing 5.6 assists along the way.

Chase Hunter is the best two-way guard in America now. You need to figure that out,” Clemson All-ACC big man PJ Hall interjected after a postgame Hunter news conference answer.

Hunter is soaking up the moment for him and his team.

“To be playing my best basketball right now is everything for me,” Hunter said. “I’m just excited and happy for my teammates and my coaches.”

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