NEW YORK — When Aamir Simms picked up his second foul with 1:47 to play in the first half, Clemson head coach Brad Brownell looked down his bench, pointed to freshman A.J. Oliver and waved at him to enter the game.
Twelve seconds later, Oliver made his head coach look good as he drained a three-pointer from the left corner to give the Tigers a nine-point lead at the time on Boston College. It was the second three-pointer of the game for Oliver and one of three he hit overall, as he came off the bench to provide the No. 4 seed Tigers a spark they needed in a 90-82 victory over No. 12 seed Boston College at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“Yeah, A.J. was tremendous,” Brownell said after the game.
Prior to Thursday, Oliver had made just four 3-pointers all season and six shots overall in 14 games. He was 3-for-3 from behind the arc against the Eagles and played eight very important minutes.
“A.J. hadn’t played a lot this year,” Brownell said. “He got some time early in the year and really struggled and just couldn’t find his legs. He probably lost his confidence midway through the year, and just has hung with it, with an unbelievable attitude.
“He’s just been coachable, worked extremely hard, put more time in the gym, and really hasn’t played much at all, but he’s been playing well the last month in practice.”
Brownell recently told Oliver he was going to reward him for all his hard work and attitude in the last month so with Simms and David Skara both in foul trouble, he called on the freshman to see what he could do.
“I have trusted that man ever since he has recruited me,” Oliver said to The Clemson Insider. “Whatever he tells me to do, I do it with a smile on my face and I continue to work hard. That is pretty much what I have been built to do my entire life.
“Whenever we need a bucket or whenever we are called on, just stay ready and be ready for the opportunity.”
Oliver was ready for his opportunity late in the second half when he came in for Skara, who had just fouled out of the game. BC had cut what was once a 16-point lead to three-points and had all the momentum.
With BC needing a stop, Oliver came open in the left corner and Marcquise Reed found him there. The freshman drilled the trifecta, giving the Tigers a 68-62 lead with 4:25 to play.
“I knew BC was coming in on a run and we were just kind of struggling a little bit on offense so I thought I could hit the first two in the first half and I thought I could get another one in there so when I hit that, it was great for us and it was a good momentum builder for us,” Oliver said.
Reed said Oliver’s shooting was huge for him and for the team.
“For him to step in and make some big shots, that is always motivation for him and motivation for the other younger guys to see him come in and contribute,” Reed said.
Brownell said he is one of those coaches that may not play a guy for a long period of time, but then suddenly will throw them in there to see how they respond and if they are ready to perform.
Oliver made the most of his opportunity on Thursday and proved to his coach that he was ready.
“Obviously what he did today was huge,” Brownell said. “We needed it. Two shots in the first half were big, but then the one late in the game was a big-time shot. It was a great pass, first of all. But I couldn’t be more proud of him because it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s been a hard year. You lose your confidence, kind of get it back then earn your way back. And he really hasn’t played much at all, but he comes into the biggest of stages and makes three big shots today. So I’m just really proud of him with the attitude that he’s kept all year.”