GREENVILLE, S.C. — Clemson won its third straight ACC game on Sunday, downing No. 16 Louisville in a nail biting, 66-62 victory in front of 9,562 fans at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. The Tigers are now 10-6 and 3-1 in the ACC. Louisville dropped its first conference game of the season, falling to 13-3 overall.
Head coach Brad Brownell, who picked up win No. 100 at Clemson, was ecstatic with the Tiger victory.
“We are playing much better and learning to handle adversity,” he said. “We are understanding our team a little bit better and gaining our confidence. This was a good win for us.”
Donte Grantham lit the floor up early shooting back to back threes in the first five minutes of play. He went on to make 4-6 from long distance, finishing with 12 points. Avry Holmes contributed a career-high 11 free throws and 16 points, while Jaron Blossomgame posted 17 points and nine rebounds for the Tigers. Clemson shot just 33 percent and was outrebounded by 21, but forced 17 turnovers by the Cardinals and made 32 free throws compared to Louisville’s 11.
The Tigers went on a 12-0 run late in the first half of play. The run sparked Clemson to a 31-25 lead at intermission. The Clemson defense was also hot, holding Louisville to 36 percent shooting. The Cardinals’ top two leading scorers, Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, were only 2-15 from the field combined in the opening half. They finished just 5-31 overall and 1-18 from three.
The second half of play showcased some exhilarating moments from the Tiger offense. The Well was rocking multiple times, none more so than on a fastbreak steal and slam by six-foot tall Jordan Roper. His dunk made it 43-29 in Clemson’s favor. The Tiger defense remained dominant, forcing Louisville to an 0-15 start from three-point range until 3:38 to play when Lewis finally took the lid off for the Cards. Louisville made it interesting late when Jaylen Johnson converted consecutive three-point plays and Lewis was fouled with 5.5 seconds left. He made two free throws to cut the lead to 64-62, but Holmes calmly sank his final two shots at the charity stripe to seal the win.
Clemson returns to action in Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Wednesday, playing host to the defending NCAA Champions from Duke. The Tigers and Blue Devils tip off at 7 p.m. in a game televised by ESPN2.
Clemson Head Coach Brad Brownell
“Well, just a really terrific defensive performance by our team today. I thought the first 30 minutes of the game, we guarded about as well as you can guard. We frustrated them a little bit, it helps that (Chinanu) Onuaku was in foul trouble. I thought our guys settled down a little bit, I thought we were a little edgy at the beginning, had a few bad plays and careless turnovers. The longer the game went, the more our guys just believed and got comfortable and played to win. Louisville made it interesting at the end, but you knew they would. Rick’s (Pitino) teams always fight you to the end, and fortunately we were able to make enough free throws to win.”
On attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line 44 times:
“The numbers are a little skewed by the fact that the last three and a half minutes of the game, they were trying to trap us and foul us and make us make a million free throws. It was a little bit of the Jim Valvano philosophy. We had a stretch there where we missed a few that opened the door for them to get back in it. It is always hard to guard the last four minutes of the game when you are up eight or 10 points and the other team is coming downhill on you, where you tell your guys don’t give up threes, don’t give up lay-ups, don’t give up offensive rebounds, don’t give up this or that and the other team is just playing loose because they are behind the eight-ball in the game. Obviously, we struggled a little bit with that, they made a few more plays, but fortunately for us I thought we did handle the ball well against the press the last eight minutes of the game, we were able to get the ball inbounds, didn’t turn it over for points and made enough free throws to win.”
n why the team is playing so much better of late:
“We are playing better, but I don’t know if I really know all the reasons why, I think some of it is just confidence. It is understanding our team a little bit better, managing a little bit of Avry (Holmes) and Jordan (Roper), two smaller guards. We played some teams that we handled so easily early on that I don’t know if we learned as much about our team at times, and never got put into adversity. For whatever reason, this team didn’t handle adversity as well early in the season. A lot of it was offensive rhythm, trusting each other. Some of it was individual confidence, and some of it was trying to do too much on our own one on one instead of trusting in the offense and playing together. Screening together to help a teammate, being patient to find a teammate for a great shot instead of settling for an okay shot. I think we have done a better job of that; it is something we talked about a lot right before we left for the break to go home. I think defensively we have done a little bit better of a job of analyzing things about the teams we face … what we need to take away. And as coaches, we have done a little better of a job at finding things we can exploit, and hopefully put our guys in better position to be successful.”
Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino
“Well I congratulate Clemson, they played a very physical, well-played basketball game. They took us out of a lot of things we do well, and certainly played great defense on Damion Lee. They very much deserved the victory tonight.”
On the difficulty from three-point distance:
“Well, we missed some open ones. This (Louisville) basketball team has relied on the offense to win. There are going to be nights that the other team slows down the play and you don’t get easy shots, and you need to start relying on the defense. We try to get 40 deflections per game and we are averaging in the 20s this year. I knew this type of game would happen sooner or later, and I’ve been trying to warn our guys about it and that they have to have their defense every night. We haven’t and we got burned because of it.”
On Clemson getting to the free throw line:
“You have to worry about their three-point shooting, 35 percent of their shots are threes, you have to be up on them. Unfortunately, we gave the righty the right hand and the lefty the left hand. We fouled them, but I thought they fouled us a few times but we didn’t get it. I guess this roaring, raucous crowd kept those referees on guard.”
Clemson vs. Louisville
- Clemson knocked off Rick Pitino’s Louisville team Sunday, 66-62. It was the third straight season the Tiger program knocked off a team whose coach has already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. The Tigers beat Duke (Mike Krzyzewski) in 2013-14 and Syracuse (Jim Boeheim) last season.
- The Cardinals entered Sunday’s game with a No. 16 national ranking. It was Clemson’s first win against a ranked foe since Dec. 7, 2014 when the Tigers beat Arkansas.
- Sunday’s win was the program’s fifth win against a ranked foe under Brad Brownell.
- Brownell achieved win No. 100 as Clemson’s head coach Sunday. He is the fifth Tiger coach to post at least 100 wins, joining Joe Davis, Bill Foster, Cliff Ellis and Oliver Purnell.
- Clemson held Louisville to 62 points, the Cardinals’ lowest output of the season.
- Sunday’s win was Clemson’s first against Louisville. The Cardinals had won all four of the previous meetings in the series.
- The Tigers made 32 free throws Sunday, most in 179 games under Brownell. The previous high was 28 against Florida State in 2012.
- Clemson won despite being outrebounded 53-31. The rebound disparity was the largest against a Brownell coached team at Clemson.
- Clemson’s 14 field goals were the fewest in the Brownell era, yet the Tigers won the game.
- Avry Holmes hit 11 free throws on 14 attempts, both career highs.
- Jordan Roper played 38 minutes Sunday without a turnover, and has a 64-20 assist-turnover ratio so far this season.
- Jaron Blossomgame surpassed 800 career points, with a game-high 17 points. He also tied a career high with three steals.
- Donte Grantham hit four three-point goals, matching his high against an ACC opponent (Syracuse in 2014-15).
- Sidy Djitte had 12 rebounds Sunday, his highest figure in an ACC game. He did it in just 21 minutes, while adding nine points.