Clemson basketball gets program's first win over ND

Clemson basketball gets program's first win over ND

by - Staff Writer -

CLEMSON – A furious start and heroics by freshman Aamir Simms gave Clemson its first ever win over Notre Dame in men’s basketball.

No. 18 Clemson defeated Notre Dame 67-58 in front of a sellout crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum Saturday afternoon.

Simms – who came in for the injured Donte Grantham - had a key block and three late in the game to secure the Tigers’ win over the Irish. Gabe DeVoe led Clemson with 17 points while Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell added 12 a piece. Notre Dame’s T.J. Gibbs led the Irish with 18 points.

Clemson improved to 16-3 overall and 5-2 ACC while Notre Dame dropped to 13-7 overall and 3-4 in conference. The win was the 13th in a row (dating back to last season) at home, the longest home winning streak under Brad Brownell. The Tigers are also just one win shy of last season's total.

With the win, Clemson is 11-0 at home this season and 4-0 against ACC opponents on its home floor. It was also Clemson’s 200th victory inside Littlejohn Coliseum.

Since Notre Dame joined the ACC, the Tigers and Irish have met five times on the court, but only once at Littlejohn Coliseum – a 60-58 Clemson loss in 2015. Notre Dame had won all five of the previous meetings.

Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said he was proud of the way his team played Saturday evening, especially their grit on the defensive end.

"It was a hard fought game against a tough-minded team. I thought our defense was great," Brownell told the media after Saturday's game. "Certainly, the great start we got off to was helpful because it got the crowd into the game and it gave our guys a little juice, but as you would expect. Notre Dame battled. They're hard to play against. They can play a lot of different ways. They play small. They play big. They've got tough kids with really good guard play, so they're a handful. Our guys kept battling all day. Defensively, I thought our discipline was great. I thought we really followed our plan well and guys just hung in there. We had spurts of good offense and spurts of bad offense but we were able to withstand it because our defense was so good."

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said he think Brownell has Clemson heading in the right direction.

"Big shots and big plays in a good game. I loved our fight. We kept trying to come back and make it interesting and we did," Brey said. "Simms three in the corner was a backbreaker. I didn't know he was a three-point shooter. Our group is a little wounded. We've got to keep trying to scratch and claw...I'm really impressed with Clemson. Really gifted offensive team. They've got the look this year. I know Brad had built it to this year being the year."

The game started fast and furious for the Tigers who made their first seven shots, including three three-pointers – one each Reed, DeVoe, and Grantham – to give Clemson an early 15-5 lead.

A layup by DeVoe at the 13:39 mark of the first half gave Clemson its largest lead of the half at 19-8, but a four-plus minute scoring drought by the Tigers allowed Notre Dame to get back in the game.

After a pair of DeVoe free throws that put Clemson up 21-10, Notre Dame went on a 14-7 run that cut the Tigers lead to 28-26. Both teams battled for the final two minutes of the half, but Clemson managed to stay in front with a 33-30 lead over Notre Dame at intermission.

Clemson began the second half much like the first with a hot start offensively, opening a 40-32 lead and forcing Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey to call a timeout with 15:46 to play.

Over the next four minutes, Notre Dame guard Matt Farrell hit two threes to spark the Irish offense as Notre Dame made it a one-point game at 47-46 with 9:58 to play.

During that span, Clemson lost senior Donte Grantham to a knee injury on a drive and jump stop, but Mitchell took over and hit a pull-up three from the top of the key and a drive and score to open Clemson’s lead back to six at 52-46 with 7:49 to play.

Brownell didn't have an update on Grantham after the game, other than to say that it was a knee injury.

"All of our thoughts and prayers are with Donte and we're hoping for good thoughts. I don't know anything so I can't answer any questions about it. We'll hope that it turns out well. He'll have an MRI soon," Brownell said.

With just over three minutes to play, T.J. Gibbs and John Mooney hit back-to-back threes to cut Clemson’s lead to only three at 59-56. Clemson stepped up its defense on the ensuing possession and freshman big man Aamir Simms hit a three from the corner to extend the Tigers lead to 62-56 with a minute to play.

Brownell said he told Simms he was prepared for the moment.

"I'm proud of Aamir and the way he stepped up. He's really had a great two weeks of practice," Brownell said. "The last two weeks, he's really playing with much more confidence. I just kept telling him, 'Hey man, you're ready for this moment. It's not too big for you. You're fine. Go make plays.' Thankfully, he was ready and he did."

Mitchell hit the front end of a 1-and-1 to put Clemson ahead 63-56, but he and DeVoe missed their next two chances at the charity stripe.

Gibbs hit a runner in the lane to make it 63-58 with just over 40 seconds remaining, but Reed hit both free throws for Clemson to secure a 65-58 game with 30 seconds to play. A pair of free throws from Mitchell accounted for the final points.

Clemson plays at No. 2 Virginia Tuesday night.

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