By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
With the game tied with 10:05 left in Saturday’s 63-55 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday, Clemson center Landry Nnoko found himself at the foul line looking to give Clemson the lead.
It was a big moment after the Tigers battled back from an eight-point second-half deficit a few minutes earlier to tie things up at the 11:44 mark on a K.J. McDaniels’ layup. The Tigers had not led since the 12:42 mark of the first half when the score was 10-8.
It was time for Clemson to seize momentum and an unexpected source provided those services. Nnoko missed his first free throw and then his second one hit the front of the rim. But reserve forward Josh Smith, who played nine minutes on Saturday, grabbed the rebound and went back up, putting the ball in the hoop for a 42-40 lead.
After Georgia Tech came down and tied the game on the ensuing possession, guard Adonis Filer was just off the mark on a three-pointer, but Smith again got his hands on the ball and again put the Tigers up with a putback for a 44-42 advantage with 9:12 to play.
Smith’s two rebounds were apart of seven offensive rebounds in the second half and 12 overall. Smith, along with fellow reserve Sidy Djitte, is starting to find his place on a team that seems to be getting better at every position with each game.
“When those guys find themselves with opportunities to score, you need to make a basket,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “Josh got a great offensive rebound play where he out worked people, got the ball and scored.
“That’s what we need Josh to do. We need him to give us four points like that. His size helped us defensively, too.”
Sidy also had a putback after getting an offensive rebound, while Nnoko and Blossomgame continue to grow and get better in the post as starters.
“I feel like everybody is gaining more confidence,” McDaniels said. “The more wins we get, everybody’s confidence rises. It is good to see them step up and make some baskets. We just need everybody to keep doing that every night.”
Besides getting some unexpected help from Smith and Djitte, the Tigers got a second straight double-figure effort from guard Demarcus Harrison, who scored 15 points, including 10 in the last 6:07. Harrison’s two three-pointers down the stretch broke open the tied game as Clemson outscored Georgia Tech 15-7 down the stretch.
“That was huge,” McDaniels said. “Dmarc plays hard. He shots the most. After practice he and I shot the most. He is a great player. I was happy to see him step up and do what he needed to do for the team. I feel like he will keep doing that for us.”
And as everyone else keeps solidifying their roles’ on the team, the Tigers inch closer and closer to an NCAA bid.
“It’s just confidence,” Nnoko said. “We just keep working. Josh, me and Sidy go after each other in practice. Every time we are on the court, we feel like we have the confidence to make those moves. Whenever you get an opportunity, you have to take it.”