It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it also wasn’t an early season loss, as Clemson Men’s Basketball (2-0) got two free throws from Chase Hunter with 3.4 seconds to go to edge the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) by a score of 77-76 in the opening round of the Asheville Championship.
P.J. Hall poured in 27 points, grabbed 9 rebounds and was a man-possessed for the Tigers on the evening, but the things I was concerned about pregame – namely UAB’s offensive rebounding and second-chance points – proved prophetic.
The Blazers pulled down 6 offensive rebounds that led to 11 first-half second-chance points that led to a 42-39 Blazer lead at the break.
The game changed in a 50-second stretch midway through the second half as UAB players Yaxel Landeborg and Javian Davis fouled out which eventually led to Clemson taking control and a 5-point lead at 72-67.
The Blazers weren’t done, though, as two missed free throws by Chauncey Wiggins at the 3:04 mark provided an opportunity that UAB accepted to get back in the game and take the lead in a back-and-forth affair.
Down the stretch this had the feel of “last team with the ball wins”, and while that was not technically true, it was for all intents and purposes as UAB, out of timeouts, was forced to throw up a prayer that had no chance at the buzzer.
Chase Hunter finished with 16 points as the only other Tiger in double figures on the game, while Ian Schieffelin had 8 and Wiggins and R.J. Godfrey had 6 apiece.
Clemson, uncharacteristically, struggled from the free throw line, going just 17-27 (63.0%) for the game, despite Hunter’s heroics in the end.
After a 1-10 performance from three-point range in the first half, the Tigers nailed 5 of 9 from distance in the second stanza.
It was an important win for Clemson Men’s Basketball, but there are concerns
The Tigers got very little from Alex Hemenway, and Joe Girard, who scored 1,600+ points at Syracuse, has struggled a bit in his first two games at Clemson.
Girard scored 6 points in the win, but was just 1 of 4 from the field with 2 assists and 3 turnovers. Over the first two games, admittedly a tiny sample size, Girard is 2 for 9 from the field (2 of 7 from three-point range) with 6 assists to 4 turnovers.
The turnover-to-assist ratio is not what I expected and given his scoring history I expected a bit more from Girard in that regard.
With the options Clemson has, Girard doesn’t need to score 15 a game, but needs to be more of a threat than he’s been to date.
Again, it’s early and that could certainly come with time and work with his new teammates.
The other concern is a Clemson team that had a height advantage was outhustled on the boards by a Mid-Major team to the tune of 39-26 on the boards. UAB repeatedly was in better position than the Tigers and reaped the rewards.
Other than Hall, no Tiger had more than 2 rebounds.
Clemson advances to the championship game and will play Davidson at 3 p.m. on ESPN2 on Sunday.
I expect Clemson to be somewhere around a 10 or 11-point favorite in that game.
Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change