By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
Freshman Jaron Blossomgame had a hand in writing a winning narrative for the Clemson basketball team in its win over Duke in Littlejohn Colisuem on Saturday. Then he let one of his teammates punctuate it emphatically.
Banished to the bench for ninety percent of Thursday’s ugly loss to Florida State that ended only 41 hours before tipoff, Blossomgame rose to the occasion against the Blue Devils, contributing 14 points and 14 rebounds—his first career double-double—in the Tigers’ 72-59 victory over the nation’s 13th-ranked team.
After a slow start to the season that followed more than a year rehabbing a broken leg that required two surgeries, Blossomgame’s performance was music to Clemson head coach Brad Brownell’s ears.
“He’s gone through a ton in the last 18 months,” he said. “I’m really happy for him because I know how hard it’s been.”
“This game was special for us,” Blossomgame said. “It was the first ranked team coming in here since last year. It was a big opportunity for us.”
The redshirt freshman from Atlanta was one of three Tigers who registered double-doubles in the game. Forward K.J. McDaniels poured in 24 points and grabbed ten rebounds in the game, while center Landry Nnoko had ten points and 13 boards for the Tigers.
Rodney Hood scored 20 points on 16 shot attempts to lead the Blue Devils in scoring. Do-it-all freshman Jabari Parker had 15 points and seven rebounds as well.
The game was billed as a clash of contrasting styles, with Clemson’s top-ranked scoring defense squaring off against Duke’s efficient, high-flying offense. That battle belonged to the Tigers, who held the Blue Devils to a season low in points (59) and field goal percentage (.339).
It began early, when Clemson built a modest 5-0 lead while holding Duke scoreless for the first 2:44 of the game. But back-to-back three-pointers from Parker gave the Blue Devils the lead at 8-7, and they never relinquished it before halftime.
McDaniels dominated for the Tigers in the first half, scoring 17 of the team’s 31 points. Only two other players joined him, however, until Clemson’s final possession of the frame. As a result, Duke enjoyed a 37-31 lead heading into the locker room.
After a Duke trifecta extended the lead to nine, Rod Hall awoke. Scoreless in the first half, Hall scored seven consecutive points to draw Clemson within two at 40-38.
The Tigers stayed within two possessions until Blossomgame—just a 20 percent shooter from three-point range coming into the contest—gave the Tigers a 52-50 advantage with 9:28 to play. He drained another one to put them back on top, 57-54, at the 7:35 mark, and Brownell’s team never looked back as Blossomgame erupted along with the sold-out arena.
“I didn’t want our guys to lay down and just let them run all over us,” the lanky forward said. “I wanted to be that energy guy to get everybody back into the flow of everything.”
At that point, Clemson’s defense did what it does. Faced with a tight struggle against a team with scoring weapons all over the floor, the Tigers locked it down.
After Quinn Cook’s three-ball made it 59-57 with 6:23 to play, the Blue Devils never made another basket. Clemson closed with a 13-2 spurt in which Duke missed 11 straight shots. In the second half, the Tigers held the Blue Devils to 22 points, the lowest of the season by ten points.
“Their physicality and their athleticism and their determination wore at us,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
The script featured Blossomgame as the main character, but McDaniels ended it with an exclamation point. As he skied to grab Hall’s miss and dunked it home to provide the game’s final points, the Clemson crowd prepared to rush the floor for the first time in Brownell’s tenure.
“We’re trying to do things the right way on and off the court and play tough-minded, physical basketball,” the Tigers’ head coach said. “We showed that today.”
Clemson will travel to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech in its next game on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.