To close out the 2016 calendar year, The Clemson Insider is taking a look back with a four-part “16 for ‘16” series. This series will feature groups of four “bests” in four categories for Clemson athletics: wins, highlights, performances, and unsung heroes. In this first part, we identify the four best wins of the year…
March 5, Baseball: Clemson 5, South Carolina 0 (Greenville, SC)
In a season of ups and downs in year one for Monte Lee, a series win over the Gamecocks provided an early beacon of light. After getting outclassed in the opener of the three-game set in Columbia, Clemson sent Clate Schmidt to the mound to try to stem the tide. The game had significance for Schmidt on multiple levels. First, it was a triumphant return to the rivalry after a battle with cancer during the offseason. Second, he was tasked with responding to his brother’s dominant effort on the hill for the Gamecocks the previous evening.
Schmidt shut out South Carolina through 5.1 innings in a one-hit, six-strikeout performance that was one of his best of the season. The Saturday victory also featured Pat Krall’s first save of the season. He recorded the last eight outs for the Tigers to earn one of his team-best five saves. Additionally, Chris Okey drove in three runs for Clemson’s offense in the victory.
October 1, Football: Clemson 42, Louisville 36
By the end of the season, many considered these two teams to be the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference. That made the early October showdown in Death Valley the de facto conference title game, and it lived up to the billing as one of the most entertaining games of the college football season.
With a national television audience looking on, Clemson built a 28-10 lead before Louisville scored 26 unanswered points to go ahead 36-28 with less than eight minutes remaining. An Artavis Scott kickoff return deep into Cardinal territory returned momentum to the Tigers, who scored twice in a row and stopped a late Louisville drive to hang onto a tight advantage until the final buzzer. Deshaun Watson went toe-to-toe with eventual Heisman winner Lamar Jackson in the game, accounting for almost 400 yards and five touchdowns.
December 3, Football: Clemson 42, Virginia Tech 35 (Orlando, FL)
In the actual ACC Championship Game, the Tigers never trailed in a one-score victory over Coastal Division representative Virginia Tech. The win gave Clemson its second consecutive conference title for the first time in 28 seasons and ushered the Tigers into the College Football Playoff field for the second straight season.
Once again, Watson was brilliant in the contest. He scored five touchdowns and accounted for 373 yards to pace a Clemson attack that built a healthy margin that was rarely threatened throughout the game. The Tigers were especially good early on offense, scoring touchdowns on each of their first three possessions and accounting for 233 yards—almost half of the team’s total of 470 yards for the game.
December 21, Men’s Basketball: Clemson 62, South Carolina 60 (Columbia, SC)
Rarely does any Clemson athletic team get to celebrate a big win that is also a program first. Even more rare is the opportunity to do both against its in-state rival. The Tigers’ two-point win in Columbia was the first in the history of the men’s basketball team on the road against a ranked opponent outside of ACC play. It is also arguably the most impressive victory during the nonconference portion of Clemson’s schedule.
Jaron Blossomgame led the Tigers with a double-double, pouring in 15 points and snagging 10 rebounds. Marcquise Reed scored 14 points off the bench, and Elijah Thomas had 12 points and 7 rebounds in just his second game in a Clemson uniform. The Tigers’ bench outscored the Gamecocks’ reserves 29-3 to earn the win.
Missed the Cut
January 5, Men’s Basketball: Clemson 74, Syracuse 73 (OT-Syracuse, NY)
January 13, Men’s Basketball: Clemson 68, Duke 63 (Greenville, SC)
April 24, Men’s Golf: Clemson (-25) wins ACC Championship (New London, NC)
May 29, Baseball: Clemson 18, Florida State 13 (ACC Championship-Durham, NC)
November 11, Men’s Basketball: Clemson 74, Georgia 64 (Littlejohn Coliseum reopens)
November 26, Football: Clemson 56, South Carolina 7