Behind the play of Aamir Simms, Nick Honor and Jonathan Baehre, Clemson exploded in the last 12 minutes Thursday night to beat Purdue, 81-70, in the Space Coast Challenge at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne, Fla.
The victory gave the Tigers (2-0) the tournament championship.
Clemson extended its lead to 15 points at one point, 73-58, with 2:30 to play and then hung on to win the game.
With the win, plus Wednesday’s win over Mississippi State, marked the first time since the 1951-’52 season the Tigers opened a year with two wins over Power 5 opponents.
The victory also marked Clemson’s first regular season tournament title since winning the inaugural Charleston Classic in 2008.
“I am just really happy for our players because I have seen how much they have dealt with since the end of last season,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “The kind of effort these kids are giving every day in practice and the way they are competing and the sacrifices they are making to try and have a season, they have been unbelievable.
“We have been fortunate that our team has not had much COVID. So, we have been able to have some practices, have a little bit of consistency and I think it showed.”
Simms scored 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including a pair of three-pointers. It was much better night for the senior than in the opener on Wednesday. He fouled out with five minutes to play in the win over Mississippi State and scored just four points.
But that was not the case on Thursday, as Simms dominated the game in the second half and added four assists to go with his 24 points.
Brownell said the Tigers wanted to do a lot of different things with Simms. The goal was to take Purdue’s 7-foot-4 center, Zach Edey, out of the post by moving Simms around the perimeter.
Then there were times against Trevion Williams they wanted to post him and he was effective playing out of the post.
“That is what makes him a really good player,” Brownell said. “He can score in different ways in different spaces. His matchup was hard for them in different ways. Their way was to be more physical, and his way was to be a more well-rounded basketball player and he was outstanding.”
Honor had 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He was 4-for-7 from behind the arch. He also had four steals.
Baehre scored 11 points, including two three-pointers in the second half and three more on an old-fashion three-point play. All 11 of his points came in the second half.
Purdue (1-1) was led by Brandon Newman’s 18 points and Zach Edey’s 17 points.
With the game tied at 48-48 following a Trevion Williams jumper for Purdue, Clemson went on a 10-0 run to take control of the game for a second time on the night. Jonathan Baehre first drained a three from the right wing and then on a transition play, he rattled home a shot and completed a three-point play for a 54-48 lead with 10:57 to play.
Al-Amir Dawes then stole the ball from Edey and went coast-to-coast for an eight-point lead. Dawes then hit a jumper for a 58-48 lead with 9:02 to play in the game.
From that point Clemson controlled the game and did not look back as Simms took over, lifting the Tigers to the Space Coast Challenge Championship.
The Tigers led 36-28 at the break, thanks in large part to Clemson’s stingy defense. They forced 12 first-half turnovers.
Clemson had six steals in the first half, including three from Honor, who also led the Tigers with 11 points. Purdue, who shot 58 percent from the floor in its win over Liberty on Wednesday, but was just 9-for-25 from the field.
The Tigers led by as many as 13 points, 32-19, with 3:58 to play in the first half.
“Last night we did not execute very well. We did not make a lot of open shots and we were nervous,” Brownell said. “Tonight, we were a little more ready to go. I thought we settled into the game a little bit better.”
Clemson connected on 14-of-31 shots in the first half to build its lead and was 6-of-16 from behind the arch. But the Boilermakers made 9-of-11 free throws to keep itself close. Clemson took just three foul shots and made two of them in the first half.
The Tigers shot 49 percent from the field overall on 29-of-59 shooting. They also made 10 three on 28 shots. Clemson was 13-of-15 from the foul line.
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