CLEMSON BASKETBALL

Tigers punch Arizona in the mouth and ticket to Elite Eight with upset victory
Hunter celebrates Clemson's first trip to the Elite 8 since 1980. (Photo by Merrell Mann).

Tigers punch Arizona in the mouth and ticket to Elite Eight with upset victory


by - Senior Writer -

LOS ANGELES, CA – Clemson Grit punched Arizona in the mouth and punched its ticket to the Elite 8.

Clemson held off several charges by No. 2 seed Arizona and overcame second-half foul trouble in defeating the Wildcats 77-72 at Crypto.com Arena Thursday night to advance to the program’s second-ever Elite 8 appearance.

The Tigers improve to 24-11, while Arizona’s season ends at 27-9. Clemson faces Alabama at 8:49 EDT on Saturday (TBS/truTV). The Tigers went to Tuscaloosa and won earlier this season, 85-77.

The win over No. 2 seed Arizona is the highest-seeded team Clemson has beaten in the NCAA Tournament. Clemson reached the Elite 8 in 1980 under Bill Foster in its first NCAA Tournament appearance before losing to UCLA.

Chase Hunter was once again the catalyst for the Tigers, scoring 18 points. PJ Hall added 17 and Ian Schieffelin added 14 points and seven boards for the Tigers, who held Arizona, one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams, to just 5-28 from long range.

"Obviously a huge win. Just really happy for, obviously, my players, my staff, and really all of Clemson Nation," head coach Brad Brownell said. "This was a big-time game by our guys. We got off to a great start. Arizona, obviously, punched back a couple times, but these guys have hung in there and finished a game against a really good team that has had a really good season. We have a lot of respect for them.

"But today was our day. We made enough plays to win, and I'm just super happy that these guys are going to get a chance to continue to play and we get to spend more time together."

Brownell said his team has a belief in each other.

"I just think our guys have a lot of belief in each other, and I certainly have a lot of belief in my team. And we're playing good basketball right now. And anything can happen in these tournaments," Brownell said. "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.

"So we have a lot of confidence in our team. We've been through a lot together, especially these three guys. These guys are all -- Chase five years, Ian third year, and P.J. his fourth. We've been together for a long time. And so we know the ins and outs of each other and our personalities. I think that helps our team."

Neither team was on fire early but the Tigers’ zone defense allowed Clemson take an early lead. Arizona had trimmed the Tiger lead to just two at 6-4 when Clemson went on a 10-2 run over a five-minute span, with RJ Godfrey’s short turnaround giving the Tigers a 16-6 lead with just over ten minutes to play.

Arizona pushed back, but Hall hit a 3-pointer at the top of the key that gave Clemson a 24-12 lead, and a few minutes later Chauncey Wiggins splashed a 3-pointer that gave the Tigers their largest lead of the half at 27-14.

However, Arizona turned up the defensive pressure, and when Oumar Ballo threw down a dunk with 56 seconds remaining in the half, Clemson’s lead was just six at 37-31. Ian Schieffelin hit two free throws before the half, and the Tigers led 39-31 at intermission.

It didn’t take the Wildcats long to assert themselves in the second half as the Tigers quickly fell into foul trouble. Caleb Love finished off an old-fashioned three-point play at the 16:33 mark to tie the score at 43-43, and it looked like the Wildcats were finally going to take charge.

Clemson refused to capitulate, with Chase Hunter hitting a short jumper to quiet the crowd and put the Tigers back in the lead at 45-43. Love eventually hit a layup that gave Arizona the lead at 46-45, but once again, the Tigers stiffened, and when Joe Girard hit a long 3-pointer, the Tigers were back in front 53-48.

At that point the game began to see-saw back and forth as both teams searched for momentum. Clemson took a seven-point lead at 65-58 on a dunk by PJ Hall at the 7:41 mark, but the Tigers went cold from the field at that point and when the Wildcats received a dunk from Jaden Bradley at the 3:36 mark, the Tigers were clinging to a 66-63 advantage.

Out of a timeout, Hall hit two free throws to put the Tigers ahead 68-63, but Ball answered inside on the other end to make it 68-65. Hall banged around inside for another bucket to make it 70-65, but Ballo again answered with a layup that made it 70-67 Tigers with 90 seconds remaining on the game clock. The Tigers called a timeout, and out of the timeout Hunter bounced a pass to Hall, who shook loose for a dunk that put Clemson back up by five at 72-67 with just over a minute to play.

The Wildcats called a timeout and Bradley brought them back to within two at 72-70 with a long 3-pointer at the 49 second mark, and Arizona called a timeout. Out of the timeout, the Tigers ran almost 20 seconds off the clock and Hunter finished the possession with a drive into the lane. His underhanded layup dropped over the rim, and he was fouled on the play. He calmly sank the free throw with 25 seconds left to put Clemson ahead 75-70.

Love hit a layup with 15 seconds remaining, but the Wildcats hung back, not wanting to foul Girard, and Dillon Hunter broke loose for a layup. He was fouled, missed the free throw, but it didn’t matter as the Tigers punched their ticket to the Elite Eight.

Brownell said he told his team they had to weather the storm when Arizona made a run.

"We talked about it at halftime. Guys, they're going to make another run or two. And we've used the phrase "we're built for this, we can handle this." We have confidence in our team," Brownell said. "We've won some big-time road games this year. We've played a very challenging schedule -- again, my point that the ACC is much better than everybody maybe assumes is bearing fruit again. And I just think the league prepares us for these kinds of games.

"And I've got an older team. These guys have seen a lot, done a lot and experienced success. And so just really happy that they were able to withstand it, and we executed some things really well down the stretch."


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TigerNet News®
spacer Im simply ecstatic and emotionally whipped
sbrooks®
spacer It was a game for the ages
Fluxus
spacer Re: It was a game for the ages
8992Tiger
spacer I haven't been this excited by a win since we beat UNC in G'boro in 96 ACC tourn
Clemsnman®
spacer Re: Im simply ecstatic and emotionally whipped
8992Tiger
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Clemgalalways®
spacer Great Win! Believe! We have beaten NC and AB this yr!
rebeltigersteeler
spacer Re: Great Win! Believe! We have beaten NC and AB this yr!
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spacer Dang straight.***
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