After playing tournament teams like Georgia, Xavier and Oklahoma in the first four games to start the season, Friday’s High Point game was supposed to be a breather for Clemson.
However, someone forgot to tell High Point that.
The Panthers gave Clemson all it could handle before a Jaron Blossomgame steal and dunk followed by an Avery Holmes’ three-pointer gave the Tigers some breathing room as they pulled away late for an 83-74 victory at Littlejohn Coliseum.
“That was a little harder fought win then we would have liked there down the stretch,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “But I thought our guys played with good offensive confidence. It was really good to see Jaron play the way he did in the second half. I thought he was outstanding offensively.”
The Panthers (3-3) did not make life easy for Clemson, who needs to beat non-Power 5 Conference foes such as High Point to keep from falling in the same trap it has in years past, when its out of conference record prevented it from making the NCAA Tournament.
High Point connected on 8-of-20 three-pointers.
“In the timeout, Coach told us we have to stop giving up three-point opportunities. They were hitting a lot of threes and we were kind of messing up with our switches,” Blossomgame said. “The game plan was to switch hand offs and to switch off ball screens, but we kind of messed that up late and they got a couple of open threes and they were making them.”
High Point pulled within four points on a Anthony Lindauer layup with 6:17 to play, but Marcquise Reed hit a jump shot to extend the lead to six and then Blossomgame stole a pass on the Panthers’ next possession and slammed the ball home for an eight-point lead.
With 4:17 to play, Holmes drained a three-pointer from the right wing to make the score 75-66.
“Shots were not falling today, but I kept shooting,” said Holmes, who was just 3-of-10 from the field and 2-of-9 from behind the arc. “(Reed) found me, I was open, and I just shot the ball.”
The Tigers (3-2) finished the game off with free throws down the stretch to secure their third win of the season. Blossomgame led Clemson with a season-high 27 points and three rebounds, while Holmes and Donte Grantham each added 13 points.
Friday’s 27 points marked the second straight game in which Blossomgame scored at least 22 points. He had 22 points in the Tigers’ loss to Oklahoma last Sunday. Blossomgame was 10-of-15 from the floor against High Point and 7-for-7 from the foul line.
“I feel fine. My three-point shot is not falling, but I feel the same way I did two or three weeks ago,” the senior said.
Andre Fox scored 22 points to lead the Panthers, while Lindauer finished with 16 points.
Clemson took a 44-31 lead into the dressing room at halftime, but it was not as easy as it looked. High Point hung around for a little while until Reed scored seven straight points on a four-point play and a three from the left corner. That gave the Tigers a 29-16 lead with 9:22 to play in the opening half.
The Tigers led by as many as 16 points in the second half before the Panthers charged back behind the play of Fox and Lindauer.
“Defensively, we played like a team with an 18-point lead and just did not lock in defensively in the second half like we needed,” Brownell said. “In college basketball right now, it is just a different game. There are so many more people that can make threes on the floor, probably four almost every time, that at some point someone is going to make a couple in a row and the momentum of the game changes.”
Shelton Mitchell, who injured his knee the week leading up to the season-opener against Georgia, returned to action. He came off the bench in the first half and in the second half for DeVoe. He ended up playing 11 minutes. He did not score, but he had two assists.
“It was good to have him back,” Brownell said. “He certainly isn’t where he was pre-injury. But two assists and no turnovers, he is a smart player and he is a heady player. He knows how to play. He plays with great confidence. Those are things we really need. We need more of that.”
Clemson will host Nebraska on Wednesday night at 9 p.m. on ESPNU as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.