GREENVILLE, SC -- Clemson is rebuilding, but the last thing it wants to be is a confidence builder for the Central Floridas of the world.
In front of an estimated crowd of 3,000 at the Bi-Lo Center, Clemson (2-1) struggled to a 54-48 win over the Knights (0-3) Friday night in the first round of the SoCon Holiday Hoops tournament.
Clemson will play Wiconsin-Green Bay at 8:30 p.m. tonight in the second round.
"It was not a pretty game by either team," said Clemson coach Larry Shyatt. "I really thought Central Florida did an excellent job battling us on the glass."
Clemson was out-rebounded 15-12 by the Knights, 24-point losers to Winthrop and 27-point losers to Miami earlier this season.
"We tried to mix it up defensively," said Central Florida coach Kirk Speraw. "We had to give a hard look at (Will) Solomon, but we had to match up defensively on the inside and we did a decent job mixing it up."
Central Florida survived a Clemson run early in the first half to hang around against the Tigers.
The Knight's Jason Thornton hit a 3-pointer ten seconds into the second half to cut Clemson's lead to a 29-27. The Knights didn't hit another shot for nearly six minutes and they didn't look like a threat until midway through the half.
Clemson meanwhile went on a 10-0 run. Adam Allenspach started the run with a driving lay-up and added a 10-footer from the baseline after a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Adrius Jurkunas.
A lay-up by Dustin Braddock gave Clemson a 38-27 lead with 16:02 left. A free throw by Jurkunas gave Clemson a 39-27 lead before Central Florida's Inyo Cue ended the drought with a 3-pointer with 14:13 left.
Central Florida, however, wouldn't go away.
Clemson took a 43-30 lead on a 17-footer by Solomon, but the Knights then went on an 11-1 run.=
Paul Reed stole a pass by Solomon and converted two free throws to pull Central Florida within three (44-41) with 8:51 left.
The two teams exchanged baskets for the next five minutes. After Central Florida pulled within two at 50-48, Clemson took a 52-48 lead with 3:08 left on a tip-in by Adrius Jurkunas. Neither team scored again until Solomon hit two free throws with 2.6 seconds left in the game.
Central Florida missed three 3-point attempts in the final three minutes while Clemson turned the ball over twice and Solomon missed the front end of a one-and-one.
"Defensively, we mirrored our last five games," said Shyatt. "We had 32 to 35 terrific minutes where I can't find anything to criticize about the eight guys that we have out there. There are three or four minutes when shooters have gotten open and made shots."
Offensively, Clemson struggled in its half court offense.
"We've got guys still learning," said Solomon, who led Clemson it 15 points and five assists.
"But right now the have to learn quickly because our offense we're running today is a little out of synch. When they were running the zone, we really didn't execute well."
Clemson shot 37 percent in the second half.
Allenspach added 13 points and had nine rebounds for Clemson while Thornton led Central Florida with 16 points.