LAS VEGAS — Twenty-fourth-ranked Colorado rallied from 12 points down in the second half to beat Clemson, 71-67, Tuesday in the championship game of the of the 2019 MGM Resorts Main Event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Clemson pulled off a second-half comeback in its semifinal matchup win over TCU but was on the other end of a second-half turnaround in the championship game. The Tigers led for more than 34 minutes of the contest and were an efficient 40.8 percent from the floor. They knocked down eight 3-pointers and went 19-for-22 at the free-throw line.
However, Colorado (5-0) excelled at the charity stripe, going 24-for-25 on free throws, a record for a Clemson opponent.
Leading the way for the Tigers (5-2) was Aamir Simms, who matched his career high with 23 points and also corralled seven rebounds. John Newman added 16 points and was a perfect 6-for-6 on free throws. In addition, Tevin Mack chipped in 11 points and hauled in nine boards. Tyler Bey paced the Buffaloes with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
“This was a hard-fought game. I thought we played well for large portions of it,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “I also thought our zone defense was really good and threw Colorado off. We made a couple of defensive errors toward the end that cost us, but I’m proud of the way our kids fought.
“This one stings because we probably played well enough to win. We outplayed Colorado for a good portion of the game. We just didn’t close this one out.”
Simms showed out in the first half, tallying 14 points and helping Clemson build a 10-point lead. Colorado was able to hang around, though, and trailed 36-33 at halftime. The Tigers led by as many as 12 points in the early goings of the second half, but the Buffaloes manufactured a 16-3 run that culminated with a 54-53 lead with 7:51 remaining.
Clemson made several crucial defensive stops late, but Colorado’s stellar free-throw shooting enabled the Buffaloes to come out on top.
“Colorado’s good players elevated their play. Tyler [Bey] and McKinley [Wright IV] made a couple of big plays down the stretch,” Brownell said. “Colorado defended well late. They have a versatile lineup. We just had to ride our horses as long as we could. There was a lot of fight and a high energy level on our part.”
After respectably finishing as the runner-up in the 2019 MGM Resorts Main Event, Clemson will next compete in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
“I’m proud of our kids for winning against TCU with our backs against the wall and then playing right with a good Colorado team for 40 minutes,” Brownell said. “Our guys are getting better. We’re fighting. We’ve got to get better at executing a few things, but we’re getting there. Our players work hard for us, and I love coaching them.”
The Tigers are set to square off against the Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-3) at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Monday. The game will tip off at 9 p.m. EST and is slated to air on ESPN2.
—Clemson Athletic Communications contributed to this story