By Will Vandervort
It was a good thing guard Devin Coleman got his first career start Tuesday night for Clemson. If not, there may not have been any offense in the first half.
Coleman, who came back this year from a torn achilles heel injury he suffered prior to the start of last season, scored all 16 of his points in the opening stanza while lifting the Tigers to a 65-49 victory over S.C State at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson.
“I was just trying to get everyone up because we looked a little sluggish in the beginning,” Coleman said afterwards.
The Tigers (7-1) were sluggish. S.C. State jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead, while Clemson turned the ball over three times and missed their first five shots in the first four minutes of the game. But Coleman got going on the Tigers’ next possession, draining a three-pointer from the left side, a sign of things to come in the final 15 minutes.
“He has played well and practiced well so we were just giving him an opportunity,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said about Coleman’s start and performance. “I know it is a big surprise to you guys because he was not playing a lot. It’s not like any of us had him out or anything like that. I told you that one time earlier in the season. It was just a coach’s decision.”
Brownell’s decision to start Coleman Tuesday night seemed to be a thing of genius. The redshirt sophomore finished the first half 5 of 8 from the field, including 3 of 5 from downtown. He made five of the Tigers’ 12 first half baskets and was also 3 for 4 from the foul line.
With Clemson trailing 20-11 with 8:39 to play in the first half, Coleman, for a brief period, took the game over. First he made a three-pointer from the right corner that pulled the Tigers within six. Following a Landry Nnoko layup, the Clemson guard made a layup to complete the Tigers’ 7-0 run.
Following a Bulldogs’ basket by Darryl Palmer, Coleman dribbled his way to the basket where he drew a foul and made two free throws to pull the Tigers within two, 22-20, with 6:44 to go in the first. Twenty seconds later, Coleman gave Clemson its first lead, 23-22, with a three-pointer off a screen in the right corner.
He then followed that up with a layup off an assist from Jordan Roper for a 25-24 lead with 5:26 to play in the first half. In a span of three minutes and 13 seconds, the redshirt sophomore scored 12 of the Tigers’ 14 points.
“I just wanted to bring some energy, really, and try to be aggressive,” Coleman said. “I just tried to get in the flow of the game.”
“I don’t think about it. I just try to take my opportunities when they are there as far as shots go and things like that,” he continued. “If it is not there, I don’t want to force it.”
Coleman’s efforts allowed the Tigers to take a 34-31 lead into the locker room. After that, they came back out and took control of the game, outscoring S.C. State 31-18 in the second half. The Bulldogs shot only 20 percent in the second half.
Nnoko also got in the act in the second half, scoring a career-high 13 points, while grabbing 13 rebounds. It was the 6-foot-10 center’s second double-double of the season.
It was a good time for Nnoko to have one, too, since star K.J. McDaniels had an off night, scoring only seven points on 3 of 10 shooting.
“I came out and played kind of slow and Coach kind of got on my behind and told me to play better and be great,” Nnoko said. “I tried to be great and accomplish what he was asking me to accomplish.”
The Tigers will try to accomplish an eighth win Saturday when they travel to Arkansas for a 2 p.m. tipoff.