COLLEGE STATION, Texas- Freshman center Joseph Jones scored a season-high 25 points to lift Texas A&M to its first postseason win in 23 years, an 82-74 victory over Clemson in the first round of the NIT Wednesday night.
Jones dominated inside against Clemson's burly frontcourt in the second half, going 7-for-9 from the field for 19 points, including three powerful two-handed dunks. He also grabbed seven rebounds.
Acie Law added 12 points and seven assists, and Bobby Leach had 13 points for the Aggies (20-9), who were making their first postseason appearance in 11 years. A&M will face DePaul in the second round, with the time and site to be determined later.
"This was a good win for us. It was an ugly game, but that is the way we like it," said Texas A&M head coach Billy Gillispie. "We are lucky because we didn't put 40 minutes together. Clemson played harder than anyone we have played all year. I think they will be a 25-win team in two years."
Freshman guard Cliff Hammonds scored a season-high 26 points to lead Clemson (16-16), which lost in its first postseason game since the 1999 NIT. The 26 points was the most by a Clemson freshman since Terrell McIntyre scored 29 against Florida State during the 1995-1996 season.
Led by first-year coach Billy Gillispie, Texas A&M has made the nation's biggest turnaround with a 13-game improvement from the miserable 7-21 finish last season that got Melvin Watkins fired.
But Clemson gave A&M fits early on with its smothering full-court pressure and an amazing shooting display by Hammonds.
The Aggies were forced into 12 turnovers and Hammonds scored the Tigers' final 10 points of the first half, including back-to-back 3s, to give Clemson a 42-34 lead.
A&M rallied with a 15-2 run early in the second half, started by Law's fallaway 3 at the shot-clock buzzer and ended with his layup that was goaltended to give the Aggies a 51-46 lead. Antoine Wright sparked that run with three steals that led to seven points, including his nifty behind-the-back pass to Jones that resulted in a three-point play.
The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Jones took over from there, scoring 14 of A&M's next 19 points to hold off a late charge by Clemson. Mostly because of Jones' bulldozing moves in the lane, the Aggies shot 67 percent in the second half.
The Tigers just couldn't build on their strong performance in the ACC tournament, which included a first-round win over Maryland before narrowly missing out on a huge upset of North Carolina in the next round.
"Obviously, we are disappointed. We had a tough start and a tough second half," said Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell. "It was a hard fought game and we have to give A&M credit. They solved our pressure in the second half and punished us on the other end."
Clemson needed every one of Hammonds' points with senior Sharrod Ford, Clemson's leading scorer and rebounder, struggling against Jones in the worst game of his senior season. In the final game of his career at Clemson, Ford had just three points on 1-for-2 shooting and three rebounds before fouling out with 7 minutes left.
"Sharrod getting in foul trouble really hampered us and hurt us, and it really destroyed his rhythm," said Purnell. "He never kind got it going, and obviously we depend on him a lot."
Shawan Robinson, who scored 41 points during Clemson's ACC tournament run, finished with just eight points.
A&M (26) and Clemson (32) combined for 58 fouls, the most in Reed Arena history. Clemson had four players to foul out during the game while totaling just nine for the rest of the season.
"He really didn’t have an answer inside because we were not allowed to be physical enough because the way the game was called," said Purnell. "We didn’t adjust to that very well."
Despite the loss, the future could be bright for the Tigers. The freshmen players combined for 40 of Clemson's 74 points which was the most of any game this season.
CLEMSON (16-16) - Hamilton 4-8 2-4 10, Ford 1-2 1-2 3, Hammonds 9-16 3-5 26, Perry 0-1 1-2 1, Mays 0-3 4-7 4, Allen 1-2 2-2 4, Babalola 1-3 2-2 4, Moore 4-8 0-1 10, Hudson 0-0 0-0 0, Robinson 3-8 0-0 8, Akingbala 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 25-54 15-25 74.
TEXAS A&M (20-9) - Law IV 4-7 3-6 12, Walker 1-3 7-8 10, Wright 4-6 1-1 9, Kirk 1-4 5-6 8, Jones 9-14 7-10 25, Green 2-2 0-0 4, White 0-0 0-0 0, Leach 3-8 7-10 13, Pompey 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 24-45 31-43 82.
Halftime — Clemson 42-34.
3-Point Goals — Clemson 9-23 (Hammonds 5-9, Robinson 2-5, Moore 2-6, Hamilton 0-1, Babalola 0-2), Texas A&M 3-8 (Law IV 1-1, Kirk 1-3, Walker 1-3, Leach 0-1).
Fouled Out — Akingbala, Babalola, Ford, Perry, Law IV, Walker.
Rebounds — Clemson 33 (Mays 6), Texas A&M 31 (Jones 7).
Assists — Clemson 18 (Hamilton 6), Texas A&M 15 (Law IV 7).
Total Fouls — Clemson 32, Texas A&M 26.
Attendance — 8,532.