Clemson beat defending national champion North Carolina, 82-78, Tuesday at Littlejohn Coliseum, the first win over the Tar Heels in Brad Brownell’s eight years in Tigertown. Yet the Tigers did not look like a team that lost arguably its best player a week ago, scored only 36 points at Virginia and barely squeaked by Georgia Tech on Sunday night.
Brownell’s squad looked incredibly poised, even after squandering a 16-point halftime lead. They looked as cool as could be only up three with one minute remaining and Joel Berry and Cam Johnson hot from just about everywhere on the court.
Last year’s Tigers would’ve cracked, but this year is much different.
There are no star players per say, but there are a lot really good and talented guys who all work together to make themselves great.
Sure, Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell, Gabe DeVoe and Elijah Thomas all had great games, as they should be being the veteran starters they are, but what about the other guys?
Clemson played three true freshmen, Aamir Simms, Clyde Trapp and Malik William, along with a first-year transfer, who also received his first start against UNC. There were several points during the game where all four were on the court at the same time, and they were outmatching the reigning National Champions.
Overall, Brownell was pleased with the contributions from all of the young players on the team, especially on such a big stage.
“It was really good to see some of my young players, my freshman, come in and play very well,” he said. “They made major contributions playing double-figure minutes and they all made big plays.”
Simms, who has taken the place of Grantham due to his 6-foot-7, 237-pound frame, gave the Tigers six points and five rebounds in 23 quality minutes. DeVoe, who had a big night of his own with 17 points, said Simms coming in and contributing is huge for a team that needs players to step up.
“I mean it’s huge,” the senior said. “He’s been ready, Donte is just a great player so his minutes were limited. He could’ve gotten more minutes early on but now he’s stepping into the role. We all believe in him and he believes in himself.”
Brownell was particularly impressed with Simms defense against bigger players like Luke Maye and Cam Johnson.
“I thought those guys did well,” Brownell said. “Aamir really had to battle with Luke Maye. He did a good job on Luke, chasing him around and battling in the post.”
William, another freshman who is still developing as a college player, logged 11 minutes, hit a big three-pointer and impressed Brownell in some of his most important game action to date.
“I’m really proud of Malik tonight,” the Clemson coach said. “He made a corner three…that’s one of the reasons we recruited him. He’s a little undersized, only 6-foot-8, but he’s got long arms and he used those to get three rebounds in 11 minutes. He can also step out and make a three like a Mark Donnal. I thought he played well.”
Trapp, one of the more unheralded of the prospect in this year’s class, made possibly the biggest highlight play of the game knocking down a three-pointer as time expired in the first half, giving the Tigers a 16-point lead and loads of momentum.
“Clyde I thought did some good things defensively,” said Brownell. “They trapped us on the last play of the first half and he banged home a three. Those contributions, those baskets are huge for our guys. That’s why I thought we played as well as we did, and probably as well as we can in the first half.”
David Skara, a transfer who sat out last year, started his first game as a Tiger and helped out at both forward and guard because of his size and shooting ability.
“David is a good solid defender but one of the problems we have with Donte out is that we have to sub him in at 4,” said Brownell. “We lose him as a perimeter sub where he could have helped out guarding Cam Johnson who is 6-foot-8 and is shooting over our smaller guards.”
With another statement win under its belt, Clemson will continue to look to these young players for valuable minutes as the season heads into the final stretch in February. This only helps prepare them for the next several years when they will become the DeVoes Reeds, and Mitchells of the future Tigers.
After playing in two games in three days, Clemson gets a break before heading to Wake Forest this Saturday, where they will look to win three in a row in ACC play.