Though preseason All-ACC player Aamir Simms sat on the bench for much of Clemson’s season opener Wednesday night, it did not seem to hurt the Tigers.
Instead, Clemson got 10 points and seven rebounds from Simms’ replacement, freshman P.J. Hall, in a 53-42 victory over Mississippi State in the Space Coast Challenge at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne, Fla. Hall finished the night 5-for-6 from the field to lead the Tigers.
“I did not know what to expect. I was very pleased,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said afterwards. “Obviously, he was extremely efficient. He made some tough shots. It is kind of … he is one of those guys that has a quick release and he is certainly comfortable facing and shooting and he does it from some different angles.
“Most guys really have not seen P.J. play, so I am sure it was a little bit of a surprise that he has such a quick release and was able to get some of those shots off.”
Simms ultimately fouled out of the game with 5:10 to play. The senior played just eight minutes and finished the night with four points on 1-of-5 shooting.
“That was not in the game plan. We were trying to play ten guys with double-figure minutes, and I would not have bet Aamir would not be one of them,” Brownell said.
A year ago, Clemson’s could never get its offense going with Simms not in the lineup. But with some fresh faces, as well as couple of experienced players, and a nasty defense, it did not seem to bother the Tigers against Mississippi State in the season opener.
“That was a hard fought, great defensive win,” Brownell said. “We did exactly what we wanted to do defensively in the game. We extended our defense and pressured them and really got them out of rhythm.”
With the win, Clemson (1-0) will play Purdue in the championship game on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.
Purdue (1-0) beat Liberty in the day’s first game.
The Tigers also got 10 points from sophomore guard Al-Amir Dawes, while fellow guard Nick Honor scored eight points.
Simms picked up two fouls in the first minute of the game and did not play the rest of the first half. But it did not matter.
With Simms on the bench for 19 of the 20 minutes in the first half, the Tigers took a seven-point lead, 26-19, into the break. A good reason for that was the play of Hall. The freshman post player played nine minutes and was very productive, shooting 4-for-5 from the field to lead Clemson with 8 points in the half.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Brownell said about Hall. “He got seven boards. He was tired out there. It was kind of funny. He asked to come out one time and I said, ‘Hey, buddy. I can’t (take you out). Everybody else has fouls and I can’t put Aamir back in the game. You are going to have to hang in there a couple of more minutes.’ But he did a great job.
“I am really proud of him and I am happy he is a Tiger for sure.”
Though the Tigers made just 10-of-31 shots from the field to start the game, they were efficient when they did score. Eight of those 10 baskets came off assists.
Defensively, Clemson got after the Bulldogs, forcing nine first-half turnovers for a 13-2 advantage off turnovers. The Tigers also had an 8-4 advantage on the offensive glass.
The Tigers outscored Mississippi State 13-3 off the bench in the first 20 minutes.
Honor, Dawes and Clyde Trapp made early three-pointers in the second half as Clemson built a 16-point lead, 46-30, with 9:13 to play.
The Bulldogs made a run after the Tigers built their second-half lead and cut it to nine points at one point, but Clemson was able to hold them off to get its first win of the season.
Clemson made just 19-of-54 (35 percent) shots in the game and was just 5-of-25 from behind the arch. However, Mississippi State was not much better. The Bulldogs were just 15-of-50 from the field (30 percent).
The Tigers also forced 19 turnovers and had a 22-14 advantage in points off those turnovers. They also had a 26-8 lead off the bench.
Clemson was 10-of-15 from the foul line, while the Bulldogs were just 8-for-27 from the charity stripe.
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