Because of weather delays at the airport and then a bus breakdown on the way to Clemson, Samford did not reach its hotel until 3 a.m. Saturday morning.
For the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s game, it looked like Clemson was the team that did not get enough rest while the Bulldogs seemed primed for an upset at Littlejohn Coliseum. However, fatigue eventually set in for the Bulldogs and the Tigers pulled away for what looked like an easy, 81-59, victory.
“Hard fought day today, and give Samford some credit,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said afterward.
But the win was anything but easy for Clemson, who led just 55-53 with 9:29 to play in the game. However, the Tigers outscored Samford 26-6 after that, including a 19-2 run.
Clemson’s 8-1 record is its best start to a season since the 2008-’09 season. That team advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The second of four straight tournament teams for Clemson.
The Tigers got things rolling as Donte Grantham started the deceive run with an old fashion three-point play and then Shelton Mitchell drove the lane for a layup. From there, the Tigers took over as Grantham tipped in a Mitchell jumper and then Mitchell hit a three-pointer, and all of a sudden Clemson was up 10 points.
Grantham finished the afternoon with a game-high 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting, while Mitchell tallied 20 points as well and had five assists. Mitchell was 3-for-9 from three-point range and 6-of-14 overall.
Grantham scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half.
It was not a good shooting night for Clemson from behind the arc. The Tigers connected on just 9-of-36 from downtown, including a 4-for-20 start in the opening 20 minutes.
“They were packed into that zone and we just had to stay with it,” Bronwell said. “We just had to keep grinding and play. We showed some good resiliency late and came out and responded while trailing late at home.”
Led by Gabe DeVoe’s back-to-back three-pointers early in the second half, Clemson grabbed the lead for good. DeVoe finished with 14 points and was 4-for-10 from behind the three-point line.
Marcquise Reed had 13 points, but was 1-for-7 from three, while Eli Thomas had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Clemson was three-point happy in the first half, shooting 20 three-pointers. However, the Tigers made just four of those shots.
They struggled against Samford’s 3-2 zone defense, settling for threes instead of trying to penetrate and challenge the zone. Eight of Clemson’s first nine shots were from behind the arc.
While Clemson struggled to make threes Samford hung around and trailed just 35-30 at the break, though it took nine less shots and turned the basketball over 11 times.
The Bulldogs were 4-for-7 from three in the opening 20 minutes.
The Tigers will play No. 5 Florida next Saturday at the Orange Bowl Classic Tournament in Sunrise, Fla.