After 17th-ranked Clemson stumbled in Thursday night’s loss at NC State, people worried about how Brad Brownell and his squad would respond against a talented Miami squad coming off a win against Top 25 in-state rival Florida State last Sunday.
Last season, that might have been a legitimate concern, but Clemson showed the ACC and the rest of the country that this team is different, defeating the No. 18 Hurricanes, 72-63, in a game that was much closer than the score indicates.
As a team, Clemson had an unbelievable day from beyond the arc, making 12-of-21 shots from 3-point land, highlighted by Donte Grantham’s perfect 4-of-4 shooting performance.
Grantham finished the game as the leading scorer with 18 points, six rebounds, one assist and two blocks in 32 minutes of play. His four 3-pointers were the most he has made in one game this season.
Although the Tigers suffered from some mental errors that contributed to 12 turnovers, they were especially energized for a team that played an away game less than 48 hours before tip-off.
Grantham — whose return to the team was questionable over the offseason as he debated early entry into the NBA draft — is the veteran leader of this season’s now 15-2 squad that is more than exceeding its expectations after being predicted to finish 12th in the ACC at the beginning of the year.
The native of Martinsburg, W.Va., credited Brownell and his coaching staff for getting the players ready for the quick turnaround.
“It was a quick turnaround,” said Grantham. “Coach did a good job of getting us some rest yesterday. It was a mental day, just getting past the last game and moving on to the next.”
After struggling through parts of the second half, the Tigers were largely in control even when Miami closed the gap by making it a three-point game with 2:02 left in the second half.
Grantham attributed the team’s fighting spirit to keeping its collective cool and not collapsing as it too often did late in games last season.
“We keep fighting and competing every game,” Grantham said. “No matter what we are going to keep fighting. Sometimes you’re going to take some punches, but you have to get up and keep fighting.”
In addition to going 16-of-17 from the free-throw line, Clemson’s late-game success was aided by two clutch 3-point shots by Marcquise Reed and Grantham, putting Miami out of reasonable striking distance with one minute left in the game.
“We just found each other open a lot and made the extra pass,” Grantham said. “I think we didn’t do a great job of that against NC State, so we really talked about that. We have really good shooters on the team who can knock down shots any day.”
While this year’s roster is very similar to last year’s, there is something different about this team. It is playing as a more cohesive unit and playing to its strengths, something that last year’s squad did not do.
Grantham said the Tigers are playing their best basketball, believing in each other and most importantly, having fun.
“Just playing with this team is better than anything,” he said. “These guys are enjoying themselves, playing so unselfishly and want what is best for the next guy. It’s the best feeling…we are going to play for each other and we are going to play to have fun.”
Brownell, whose future at Clemson was in question before the season, has silenced the doubters. He had nothing but great things to say about his players after their gritty win against the Hurricanes, especially Grantham.
“I thought Donte was fantastic, being somewhat tired after a very physical game at [NC] State, but making those shots was huge,” Brownell said.
While Saturday’s win was big, bringing the Tigers to a 4-1 mark to start ACC play, a three-game slate with road games against UNC and Virginia and a home matchup against Notre Dame will be a tough test.
Clemson now looks to snap its 0-58 road record against the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on Tuesday night.
No. 20 UNC has had its fair share of struggles this year, and after seeing how the Tigers came back strong against Miami, Grantham believes the Tigers have a legitimate chance of snapping the streak.
“As long as we keep playing like we’re playing, this team will be in every game,” he said.