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Second-half surge sends Clemson past Nebraska

Nov 30, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers guard Shelton Mitchell (4) looks to pass the ball while being defended by Nebraska Cornhuskers forward Michael Jacobson (12) during the first half at Littlejohn Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Entering Wednesday night’s game against Nebraska, Clemson hadn’t won a game in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in five years, and it looked like that wouldn’t change following a sluggish first half of play.

But then, the Tigers found their rhythm.

After Clemson trailed by as many as nine points in the opening period, a 12-2 run midway through the second half helped propel the Tigers to a 60-58 win over the Cornhuskers.

Clemson hung on for the win in the final moments thanks to several missed shots by Nebraska, including a missed floater by Tai Webster in the paint as time expired.

Blossomgame led Clemson (4-2) with 15 points. Gabe DeVoe and Donte Grantham added nine points apiece, while Avry Holmes, Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed contributed seven each.

The victory marked Clemson’s first in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge since a 2011 win at Iowa.

“Just a hard-fought win today,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “I’ve been talking a lot about our team offensively, playing well and playing with confidence, and we didn’t play well offensively, certainly in the first half. For whatever reason, we were playing way too fast. We could not calm down and slow down, and so we were throwing the ball all over the place and didn’t look very good.

“But this game was won the last 12 minutes, and it was good for our team to win a game this way. So, good, hard-fought win in a competitive, physical game.”

After shooting 32 percent from the field and 22 percent from 3-point range in the first half, Clemson made 10 of 24 shots after halftime to bring its field-goal percentage to 37 percent for the game.

Clemson also made five of six 3-pointers in the second half after starting 2-of-9 from beyond the arc and ended the game with a season-best 46.7 mark from long distance.

“Just had to get it together,” Holmes said. “Offensively, nobody really was there, so we just had to win defensively. We didn’t do it against Oklahoma, so we learned from that game, and then just tried to win defensively instead of worrying about offense.”

After a 3-pointer by Nebraska’s Glynn Watson Jr. tied the game at 58 with 1:38 left to play, Grantham was fouled and then hit a free throw that gave Clemson the lead for good.

On the other end following the free throw, Nebraska (4-3) hoisted up several shots to no avail, including one that was swatted away by Blossomgame, before a traveling call ultimately ended the possession.

Watson Jr. had a team-high 20 points for Nebraska, which shot 40 percent but just 22 percent from 3.

“Credit to our guys for just finding a way when you’re not playing your best,” Brownell said. “That’s hopefully the mark of a team that’s turning the corner.”

A floater by Blossomgame with 11:54 left in the second half gave Clemson a 45-44 lead, its first since a 2-0 advantage at the outset of the contest. It was part of the 12-2 spurt that began with a 3-pointer by Holmes and included a free throw by Blossomgame, a pair of free throws by Reed, a dunk by Grantham and a layup by Sidy Djitte, who fouled out after recording six points and nine rebounds.

Following an official timeout with 3:37 remaining and the Tigers up by 55-54, Grantham connected on a 3-pointer that gave them some breathing room before Watson Jr.’s game-tying 3 in the waning minutes.

Clemson trailed Nebraska 31-27 at halftime. The Tigers shot 8-of-25 from the field in the opening period, including 2-of-9 from 3-point range, while Nebraska hit 14-of-33 of its shots in the first frame and 2-of-8 shots from beyond the arc. Clemson’s 9-of-10 clip from the free-throw line kept the game close at intermission, as Nebraska held a 12-to-4 advantage in points off turnovers and an 18-to-10 advantage in points in the paint.

It was a sloppy game for the most part in which each team committed 17 turnovers. Nebraska out-rebounded Clemson 42-34, including 18-11 on the offensive glass, and had a 34-18 advantage in points in the paint.

Clemson improved to 10-7 all time in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and Clemson’s win helped clinch the ACC’s first challenge title since 2008.

Clemson returns to action on Sunday when it hosts Coppin State at 2 p.m.

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