By Trey McCurry.
Jerai Grant led Clemson (10-4) in scoring and set a career high for blocked shot to lead the Tigers to a 71-59 win over East Carolina (7-6) in front of 7,382 fans Wednesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.
“I think this was a good, solid win for our guys,” said Head Coach Brad Brownell. “I think we played two solid halves. Our defense was really good throughout the night. We wanted to make it difficult for their three-point shooters to get some good looks.”
Grant, who went 10-13 from the free throw line, led the Tigers with 18 points, while Milton Jennings poured in 13, including eight in the second half. Andre Young (11) and Demontez Stitt (10) also scored double figures for Clemson.
For the game, Clemson shot 43.8% from the field, while holding the Pirates to 32.7%.
The game was a close contest for the first 15 minutes of the game, while East Carolina taking a six-point lead at 25-19 (it’s largest) with 5:32 to go until halftime. The Tigers responded with a 16-0 run, keyed by a Stitt 3 and Jennings having a 5-point burst over the span of just 37 seconds. At the half, Clemson led 35-28 behind 10 points from Stitt.
The second half saw Clemson stretch its lead to as many as 14 points, but the pesky Pirates would not go away. With the Clemson lead at only 58-53, Coach Brownell inserted walk-on senior Zavier Anderson hoping to provide a spark for his Tigers. Anderson did just that scoring four points, blocking a shot, getting a steal, and feeding Jennings for a thunderous dunk in just a 45-second span to push the Tiger lead back to 11.
“I felt like our body language on the court was not very good,” said Brownell. “I thought our enthusiasm and energy were a little low, and Zay is certainly one of our energy guys. He’s going to get after you defensively, and two of the plays were just that—plays where he was getting after it. One was a tip-in after a second ball in penetration, then to get a steal and throw it to Milton for a dunk were really, really good plays. It’s not surprising to me because he does that every day.”
The first-year head coach also praised the play of Grant. “We were trying to stay home on some shooters and we were funneling them to Jerai, in some ways. We knew that they were going to bring the ball to him. Late, they went to even more ball screens, so he put himself in position to get some blocks. I think Jerai showed good maturity today. It was hard for our big guys to get a lot of quality touches today, and Jerai found other ways to be involved, which is good.”
The Tigers moved to 10-4 on the season and will host The Citadel Sunday at 4:00PM in their final regular-season non-conference game of the year.