You have to admit. No matter what happens in Thursday’s Gold Medal Game against Ukraine at the World University Games in Italy, what Clemson’s basketball team has done in the last seven days has been impressive.
The Tigers, who are representing the United States in the games, are 5-0 heading into the Gold Medal Game. They’re the only undefeated team remaining in the tournament field and they have done it with a group of guys who have not even been playing a complete month together.
Also, they reached the Gold Medal Game without two of their star players. Forward Jonathan Baehre tore his ACL in practice on May 20 and then Clyde Trapp did the same on June 28, the day before the team left for Italy.
But here they are, four new starters, three freshmen and four transfers, playing together for the first time and they are playing for a Gold Medal, Clemson and more importantly the United States.
What also has been impressive is the way in which this Clemson team has won. Four of their five wins to this point have come by four points or less. Three of those have been by two points or less, including a 59-58 win over Ukraine in the second game of the preliminary round.
In the Medal Round, the Tigers defeated Germany and Israel by two points each to advance to today’s Gold Medal Game.
Brad Brownell and his staff deserve a lot of credit for the way in which they have coached and brought this young and inexperienced team together as fast as they have. At some point, it seems as if everyone on the team has contributed and made a big play or got a big stop when the team needed it most.
In all, nine players are averaging at least 4.0 points per game, including Amir Simms, who leads the squad with 15.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Simms scored 27 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in Tuesday’s semifinal win over Israel. He has led Clemson in scoring in three of their five wins.
John Newman is averaging 12.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, while shooting an amazing 52 percent from the field. Recent Transfer Tevin Mack, who has spent more time in Italy than he has in Clemson, has averaged 10.2 points and is shooting 43 percent from the field.
Hunter Tyson (8.4 points/game), Al-Amir Dawes (6.8) and Nick Honor (6.2) have all been consistent scorers as well for the Tigers.
And though the team is still a work in progress on the defensive end of the court, they are still holding their opponents to 39 percent shooting, including just 24 percent from three-point range. They have also forced 14.6 turnovers per game, including 5.0 steals.
In all four of Clemson’s close wins, the Tigers came up with big plays on the defensive end of the court to win the games, including four straight stops against Israel in the final 30 seconds of the game. Germany also had an opportunity to tie the game twice in the final seconds of the Tigers’ quarterfinal win, but Clemson found a way to get it done.
So, let’s sit back and enjoy the Gold Medal Game against Ukraine and try to pull Team USA to a victory. And no matter what happens, let’s make sure we appreciate what this group of Tigers have already accomplished. Winning the gold medal will be just the cherry on top.
–photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications