Tigers hang on late, avoid the upset against S.C. State

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – This was closer than expected, and closer than Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell wanted, but the Tigers still held on for the win.

Guard Demontez Stitt made two crucial free throws with 16 seconds remaining and the 21st-ranked Tigers avoided the upset in their final non-conference game, holding on to knock off S.C. State 70-67 Tuesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.

Purnell apologized for the play of his team in the post-game press conference.

“I take responsibility for the way our team played,” Purnell said. “Our guys weren’t prepared enough. I think we had our guys looking forward to closing [the non-conference schedule] out. But give South Carolina State all the credit in the world. It was like the Illinois game in that I thought we were tentative on the offensive end. Down the stretch, we didn’t step up to the line and hit free throws with courage. Obviously we looked past this one.”

The Tigers (12-2) looked like they were ready to go on cruise control as they led by as many as 12 points in the second half, but the Tigers missed four free throws and turned the ball over four times in the final six minutes in allowing the Bulldogs to claw back into the game.

The Tigers had moved in front 44-32 with 19:14 left on Demontez Stitt's 3-pointer. But the Bulldogs started climbing back at that point and cut the Clemson advantage to just 62-60 on Arsenio Williams' basket with 7:04 remaining.

Both teams went cold, but David Potter hit a 3-pointer at the 5:29 mark and then a layup with 3:28 left to give the Tigers a 67-60 lead and seemingly putting them firmly back in control, but more miscues again allowed the Bulldogs to rally.

Khalif Toombs hit a 3-pointer with 51 seconds left that cut Clemson's lead to three points, and then Andre Young missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Tyvon Williams then scored on a driving basket for the Bulldogs with 32 seconds left to make it 68-67.

The Bulldogs fouled Trevor Booker and he missed both free throws and S.C. State had a chance to take the lead on the ensuing possession when Clemson’s Andre Young made the biggest play of the night, stealing the ball from the Bulldogs’ Toombs and then sending a pass to Stitt, who was fouled.

Stitt hit both free throws, and David Potter then created a turnover, but Booker again missed two free throws to give S.C. State new life, but they missed two shots in the final eight seconds and the Tigers were able walk out with the win.

Stitt and Noel Johnson each had 13 points for Clemson, while Darnell Porter led South Carolina State with 19 points. Booker finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks for Clemson, which opens Atlantic Coast Conference play on Sunday night against No. 7 Duke.

Purnell said he was happy that his team avoided the upset.

“Coming into this game, I was happy,” Purnell said. “In college basketball, upsets happen all the time. We avoided one tonight. Hopefully, we’ll be energized to go on the road and play in the ACC.” 
Bulldog head coach Tim Carter said that just staying close to the Tigers was a victory in itself.

“When I looked at the stats I thought we accomplished what we wanted,” Carter said. “We
out-rebounded them and made about the same field goal percentage. The ball game was won on the free throw line. We made it an interesting game and I am proud of our guys. I don’t know that we can play a lot better than we did tonight. I think people enjoyed it and got what they paid for.”

Young said he there was a positive to take from the contest.

“We just didn’t play well tonight,” Young said. “They came in and played well in our house. There late, we have to be solid on the defensive end, and hit free throws, which we didn’t do. I guess it is a positive that we got the ball back there at the end and got the win.”

Booker said he realizes the Tigers’ performance was not up to par.

“We got a win, but they played hard and played way harder than us,” Booker said. “Other than that, we can’t take too much from this game. They played harder than us. Free throws cost us big, especially me the past couple of games. I have to knock them down like I used to. We just have to learn from this, and we have big game coming up against Duke.”

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