Needing a win to possibly earn an NCAA Tournament bid, Clemson’s seniors carried the Tigers to a 67-55 victory over Syracuse Saturday on Senior Day at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson.
After struggling in the first half offensively, the Tigers rallied from a seven-point half-time deficit behind the play of senior Marcquise Reed, who scored 20 second-half points as Clemson outscored the Orange 43-24 in the second half.
“It was a terrific second half by our guys,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “I thought we played about as well as we could have played in a lot of areas.”
Reed finished the afternoon with a game-high 24 points. He was 5-for-9 from the field in the second half, including 2-for-4 from behind the arc. It was a good bounce back for the senior, who scored just four points in the first half and was 2-for-8 from the field.
“I just knew that I had twenty more minutes so I was going to give it all I had in the second half,” Reed said. “I just wanted to leave it all out on the floor.”
Reed also added 10 rebounds and five steals to go with his 24 points.
“His second half was remarkable,” Brownell said. “Obviously, the points and all of that were unbelievable, but his ability to get his hands on balls and come up with balls that are sometimes fifty-fifty balls, and he just knocks it away from a guy and comes up with it. It is uncanny.”
Fellow senior Elijah Thomas scored 13 points, while Shelton Mitchell, also a senior, finished with 10. The two seniors combined to score 13 points in the last 20 minutes.
David Skara, who was playing in his last game at Littlejohn as well, dropped in two big shots in the second half, one was a three-point play and then the other was a deep shot just inside the arc. He finished with 5 points and three rebounds.
Clemson’s four starting seniors scored its last 27 points Saturday to seal the win.
The Tigers (19-12) used a 13-0 run in the second half to take the lead and then took over the game from there. Clemson did not take its first lead until Aamir Simms drained a jump shot with 13:27 to play in the game. It never trailed again.
The win was big for the Tigers because it improved their ACC record to 9-9, giving the Tigers the opportunity to possibly earn an NCAA Tournament berth. As of today, the Tigers are considered one of the last teams in, and a win over NC State in next Wednesday’s ACC Tournament can lock down a bid.
“I am not sure, really,” Reed said. “I just know we have the ACC Tournament coming up and that it is another chance for a good run and to make our NCAA Tournament resume good.”
Clemson trailed 31-24 at the break. The Tigers shot just 25 percent from the field (7-28) and was 2-for-10 from behind the arc. They even struggled at the foul line, making just 66.7 percent from the field.
The Orange’s zone and length really bothered Clemson. The Tigers started the game 0-13 before and did not score until the 14:16 mark on the scoreboard on a Thomas made layup.
Clemson’s four seniors combined to score 14 of the Tigers’ 25 first half points, but they were just a combined 5-of-21 from the floor.
“I thought we were nervous. I think guys on Senior Day, for whatever reason, we were not good offensively in the first half,” Brownell said. “Balls were slipping through hands, guys got a little timid. We did not shoot well and we were not as aggressive as we wanted to be going into the game.”
But that all changed in the second half.
“We had a good conversation in the locker room and I think guys were locked in when we came out in the second half,” Reed said. “We wanted to push the tempo in the second half, and I think that is what we did.”
At the end of the game, Brownell called a timeout and took the Tigers’ seniors out of the game with 27.5 seconds to play, giving the sellout crowd at Littlejohn an opportunity to give Reed, Mitchell, Skara and Thomas a standing ovation.
“This was a big win for us, in front of a nice crowd,” Brownell said. “Certainly, this was a special day for me and my seniors.”