After leading by as much as 14 points against Georgia on Friday night, Clemson saw its lead slip to just three points with a little less than 11 minutes to play in the two teams’ season opener.
The Tigers had played well all game to that point, but they were running out of energy. It was a physical first contest, and Clemson was forced to play more guys more minutes than it would under normal circumstances after a few players got into early foul trouble.
That’s when Clemson’s sellout crowd made its presence felt and helped propel the Tigers to a 74-64 victory in their first game in the newly renovated Littlejohn Coliseum.
Thanks in large part to seven straight points by sophomore guard Marcquise Reed coming out of a timeout at the 10:19 mark, Clemson went on an 11-2 run to help close out the Bulldogs following their spurt to get back in the game.
“If we have 6,000 people tonight, we might not win the game because our guys fed off the energy of the crowd,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “We needed the crowd when we were exhausted. There was a midpoint there in the second half when they made their run, and (Georgia head coach) Mark (Fox) was smart because he kept running our guys in there.
“We were running out of gas, and the spirit of the crowd really lifted us to a win in the second half.”
In his first game with Clemson after transferring from Robert Morris and redshirting the 2015-16 season, Reed led four Clemson players in double figures with 19 points. Gabe DeVoe finished with 15 points in his first career start, while Jaron Blossomgame had 13 points and Avry Holmes had 10 as the Tigers shot 44 percent and turned 14 Georgia turnovers into 16 points.
After the game, Georgia head coach Mark Fox admitted his team wasn’t prepared to play in the environment that the fans inside Clemson’s new facility produced.
“I didn’t have my team prepared for this atmosphere tonight,” Fox said. “They were not mentally prepared to play tonight. That’s my fault.”
Before the game, Fox knew a raucous crowd was coming.
“Coach Fox and I are friends and we talked briefly before the game, and that’s one of the things he said is hey, I really like your arena,” Brownell said. “The amenities are fantastic. Your fans are right on top of the court, and I’m sure it’s going to get loud in a little while. And you can just tell — you know as an opposing coach when you come into a place and you can feel it that if the home team starts playing well, it’s going to be crazy in here.”
Clemson played all of its home games last season at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C, while Littlejohn was undergoing its $63.5 renovation that refurbished the playing arena and seating bowl as well as the coaches’ offices, weight rooms and locker rooms among other aspects.
DeVoe, who made the last 3-pointer in the old Littlejohn and the first 3 in the new one, said it felt good to be back.
“It was great an hour before the game seeing the students come in and seeing the whole student section full,” he said. “It was just exciting to be back.”
“This crowd is unbelievable,” Reed added. “The fans here supported us, and compared to the mid-majors, it’s just a whole different level for me.”
Brownell worked tirelessly to make Clemson’s new Littlejohn become a reality.
So, his team’s first regular-season victory in the new Littlejohn felt extra special to him.
“What a memorable night here in Clemson,” Brownell said. “This was exciting for me personally, especially how hard myself and others have been fighting to make this new arena happen. I think you can see it feels like a whole new place. The turnout was special, and couldn’t be more proud of the way we won.”