Clemson basketball holds off Baylor to advance to Sweet 16

The Clemson basketball team had to fend off a furious rally by Baylor but the Tigers are dancing into the Sweet 16.

Mar 24, 2024; Memphis, TN, USA; Clemson Tigers guard Joseph Girard III (11) celebrates with guard
Mar 24, 2024; Memphis, TN, USA; Clemson Tigers guard Joseph Girard III (11) celebrates with guard / John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

For 35 minutes of Sunday's second-round NCAA Tournament matchup with No. 3 seed Baylor, the No. 6 seed Clemson Tigers had everything under control. Then, it appeared that the pressure of trying to lock up a Sweet 16 birth was going to weigh too heavy on the Tigers.

Fortunately, Brad Brownell's team was able to scrap and claw its way through a chaotic final portion of the game to secure a 72-64 victory. After almost blowing a 15-point second-half lead, the Tigers advance to Los Angeles this coming weekend where they will face No. 2 seed Arizona in the regional semifinals.

So let's go inside this thrilling win to see how the Tigers pulled out the win. Here are some rapid reactions to this huge triumph.

Clemson won this game one point at a time

What really jumps off of the box score is the difference at the free-throw line. That's where Clemson was 20-24 (83.3%) while Baylor was just 16-26 (61.5%).

Three times in the second half, Baylor missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity. What's more, when the game was on the line, the Bears' star freshman, Ja'Kobe Walter (an 81.4% free-throw shooter on the season), came up short.

With Clemson clinging to a 66-64 lead with 37 seconds to play, Walter was at the line for two free throws. He missed both allowing Clemson to corral the rebound after the second miss and draw a foul.

That's when RJ Godfrey did what Walter couldn't do and canned two clutch foul shots. In fact, Godfrey, himself just a 55.8% free-throw shooter on the season, would nail all four of his free throws in the final minute to help seal the win.

When these two teams look back on the game, one will see that it won the game one point at a time at the free throw line while the other will kick itself for leaving ten crucial points off the board by not being able to hit its free throws.

Clemson keeps Baylor from getting hot from 3-point range

This season, Baylor led the Big in 3-point shooting at 38.8% as a team. However, in this game, Clemson's defense kept the Bears from finding their rhythm from beyond the arc.

In all, Baylor was just 6-24 (25%) from deep. That included a dreadful 2-10 from Ray J Dennis and 3-9 from Walter, two of Baylor's best outside weapons.

Meanwhile, Clemson was efficient enough from long distance going 6-17 (35.3%). Interestingly, all six of those came in the first half helping the Tigers build their 10-point halftime advantage.

Clemson wins despite a rather quiet night from PJ Hall

The thought prior to this game was that Clemson's leading scorer, PJ Hall, would have to be at his best to knock off the Bears. However, that wasn't the case as the 6-foot-10 senior had just 11 points and three rebounds before fouling out late in the second half.

Hall was just 4-11 from the floor against Baylor's athletic and long big men. It was the first time since January 6 that Hall had scored fewer than 14 points in a game. Fortunately, it came on a night when his teammates picked up the slack.

Chase Hunter is playing his best basketball of the year for Clemson

With Hall less effective than usual, someone had to step up, and once again, Chase Hunter answered the call. With 20 points he was the Tigers' leading scorer on the night going 5-10 from the floor and 3-5 from 3-point range. What's more, he was a clutch 7-8 at the free-throw line.

This performance came on the heels of a season-high 21-point effort Friday against New Mexico. So far in the NCAA Tournament, the player who had just one 20-point showing in the regular season is averaging 20.5 points and six assists per game while shooting 50% from the floor. That's what you need from a senior leader in March.