It was the guards early. The bigs got involved later.
That balance helped Clemson’s men’s basketball team get back in the win column Tuesday.
Chase Hunter led the way with 20 points while Alex Hemenway added a career-high 18, helping the Tigers bounce back from their loss to rival South Carolina late last week with an 81-70 win over USC Upstate at Littlejohn Coliseum. Four players finished in double figures for the Tigers, who shot 56.4% from the floor.
“This was good for us to bounce back,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “I thought very good offensive efficiency and enough defense in spurts to create the lead that we needed to win the game.”
Brevin Galloway made 4 of 6 shots from the field to chip in 15 points, the most in a Clemson uniform so far for the Boston College transfer. In his second game back from offseason knee surgery, PJ Hall again came off the bench and finished with 13 points and two rebounds in 21 minutes after leading the Tigers with 15 points against the Gamecocks.
Meanwhile, Hall’s frontcourt mate, Hunter Tyson, scored all of his eight points in the second half of a game Clemson led by as many as 19. It was Clemson’s backcourt, though, that was humming early.
The Tigers’ 41 points by halftime were the most they’ve scored in a half this season thanks in large part to Hunter, Hemenway and Galloway. They combined to score all but seven of those points. Hemenway made four of his first six shots en route to 10 first-half points while Hunter and Galloway each had 12 at the break. Hunter is averaging 18.6 points through the first three games.
Hemenway, whose previous career-high was 17 points, finished 7 of 9 from the floor, including 4 of 6 shooting from 3-point range. Clemson finished with nearly twice as many assists (17) as turnovers (9).
“Credit to Chase and a lot of my teammates, they did an amazing job of finding me whenever I was open,” Hemenway said. “Once you see the first one go in, the basket just grows. It’s just really a credit to my teammates for that.”
The trio combined to shoot 11 of 17 from the field to help the Tigers make nearly 54% of their shots in the first 20 minutes. Clemson held Upstate to 41.7% shooting in the opening half and led by as many as 13 before halftime.
“We just told ourselves we’ve just got to finish games and be more confident out there,” Hunter said in reference to the two-point loss to Carolina four days earlier. “And I think it kind of showed tonight with a few guys.”
Upstate trimmed the deficit to a couple of possessions late in the half before Hunter sank a corner 3 just before the buzzer. Tyson started the second half with his first bucket of the night, igniting a quick 6-2 spurt for the Tigers that pushed their lead back to double digits at 47-34 with 17 minutes, 49 seconds left.
Jordan Gainey had a game-high 24 points for Upstate (1-2), which shot better than 63% from the field in the second half to finish at a 52.2% clip for the game.
“A little disappointed with our defense in the second half,” Brownell said. “I thought we just didn’t play with the same intensity that we needed to throughout.”
Clemson returns to action Friday when Bellarmine, which already has an ACC win to its name (Louisville), visits Littlejohn Coliseum for a 7 p.m. tip.
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