DeVoe scored 31 points in trying to rally Clemson back
OMAHA, Neb. — It was obvious very early on Friday that Kansas was playing in its 31st Sweet 16 and Clemson was just in its fourth, and first in 21 years.
The top-seeded Jayhawks’ experience on one of college basketball’s biggest stages played out in the end as they defeated No. 5 Clemson, 80-76, in the Midwest Regional Semifinals at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha.
Despite getting a career-high 31 points from senior Gabe DeVoe in his last game at Clemson and a furious rally late in the second half, the Tigers’ inability to execute in the opening half did them in.
Clemson, which finished the season at 25-10, never led in the game.
“We turned the ball over early and that hurt use down the stretch,” DeVoe said afterward.
After falling behind by 20 points in the second half, DeVoe, and fellow guards Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed helped the Tigers fight back.
Mitchell first made a three-point play, and then stole the ball on the next play and took in for a thunderous dunk that cut the deficit to six points, 74-68, with 2:27 to play in the game.
“I was kind of pissed off actually on that one. I went up there hard trying to get fouled,” Mitchell said. “I was trying to stay strong to make sure I get the foul, but we were fighting. We were trying to make anything happen.
“They made a bad pass and that turned out to be good for us.”
DeVoe later made a basket on his own putback to cut the lead to 77-72 with 19 seconds to play. But the Tigers rally ultimately fell short.
“Our guys took it to the wire,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “And if we just made one or two more plays we might have had a chance
to tie this thing. So I couldn’t be more proud of our guys, the way they competed today. But it has been an unbelievable pleasure to coach these guys. They’ve been tremendous all season.”
Kansas (30-7) dominated the Tigers inside the paint as they had no answer for Jayhawks’ center Udoka Azubuike, who finished the game with 14 points and 11 rebounds. He was 7-of-9 from the field, with five of them dunks.
Big 12 newcomer of the year, Malik Newman, was also a thorn in the Tigers’ side. The freshman finished the game with 17 points.
“I thought Malik Newman played extremely well, made tough shots. And Udoka was a huge factor,” Brownell said. “They’re a completely different team when he’s on the floor. He just was a difference-maker, obviously with 7 out of 9 in his rebounding, that’s a major problem because all the 3-point shooting.”
Reed tried to help DeVoe and the Tigers get back in the game in the second half, but the mountain was too big to climb by that point. Reed, who had just two points in the opening half, finished the night with 13 points. Mitchell finished the night with 12.
It appeared Clemson had some momentum at the end of the first half. However, following a Reed layup with 1:02 to play that made the score 35-27, Elijah Thomas was called for a flagrant foul, which gave the Jayhawks two free throws from Silvio De Sousa and then Legerald Vick sank a three-pointer on the following possession for a five-point swing.
Reed missed a jumper just before halftime and the Tigers trailed 40-27 at the break.
DeVoe was the only Tiger that did much in the opening 20 minutes. He scored 12 points and was 4-for-6 from the field. Clemson’s other big three—Reed, Mitchell and Thomas—combined for 1-for-11 shooting in the first half.
Clemson also turned the ball over 8 times in the first half.
“Whatever reason, maybe a little bit of nerves, I don’t know, but we turned the ball over,” Brownell said. “And you’re going to struggle when you don’t rebound well and you turn it over on offense. I thought that was a big factor in the game. And then I thought a couple of the Kansas kids were very
opportunistic in shooting.”
After the Jayhawks took an early 7-point lead, Clemson twice pulled within one point. It was 11-10 after two Mitchell free throws with 12:52 to play and then 18-17 on a DeVoe layup with 8:38 to play.
However, the Tigers had a 5-minute and 10-second stretch in which it was 0-for-8 and did not score. That followed a DeVoe three as the Jayhawks went on a 10-0 run to take a 35-22 lead with 2:17 to play in the half.
“I thought they were really ready to play and just had a really good gear today,” Brownell said. “I thought their tempo was great and probably caused us not to play our best game.
“We just seemed a little bit out of sorts, struggled on the glass early, and I think that was a big problem.”