COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) A victory outside the ACC that will catch the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s attention is rare for Clemson. To get it over the Tigers’ bitter in-state rival is even better.
Jaron Blossomgame had 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead Clemson to a 62-60 victory over No. 22 South Carolina in a game Wednesday night where neither team led by more than four points.
The Tigers (9-2) jumped around and pointed after the final buzzer of their seventh straight win. One of them shouted “This is our city!” as Clemson beat a ranked non-conference team on the road for the first time in the program’s history.
And for a Clemson team that has missed the NCAA Tournament for five of coach Brad Brownell’s six seasons – often because of a poor resume outside of Atlantic Coast Conference play – it’s a win that could mean a lot in March.
“That doesn’t build anything but toughness. Mental toughness. For us to come in fight the refs, fight the crowd – our backs against the wall and get the win is just amazing,” said Marcquise Reed who scored 14 points and hit two free throws with 52.5 seconds left that put Clemson ahead for good, 59-58.
PJ Dozier had a career-high 26 points for the Gamecocks (9-2), but missed a possible game-winning 3-point attempt just before the buzzer. The sophomore has scored 20 points or more in his past five games and set a career best for the second straight time.
But South Carolina didn’t get him involved at critical times. Down 59-58 in the final minute, the Gamecocks missed two 3-point attempts on one possession and Dozier never touched the ball.
“He’s trying to win the game,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “He did everything he could to help us tonight.”
Clemson shot 41.2 percent (21 of 51) against a South Carolina defense that came in ranked third in the country allowing teams to make just 34.6 percent of their shots.
Clemson: Clemson is 3-0 against Southeastern Conference teams after beating Georgia and Alabama. … Elijah Thomas had 12 points and seven rebounds in his second game with Clemson. His contribution was critical as starting center Sidy Djitte had no points and three rebounds, fouling out in 14 minutes.
South Carolina: Chris Silva added 14 points. … Silva and Dozier shot a combined 52 percent (14 of 27). The rest of the Gamecocks shot a combined 23 percent (8 of 35). … All- SEC preseason first-teamer Sindarius Thornwell was suspended for a fourth straight game. … The Gamecocks forced 15 turnovers against a Clemson team that averaged 10.2 turnovers a game.
HOW BIG A WIN?
Reed said Clemson’s win is the kind of victory that builds confidence down the line and can pay dividends for years.
“We wanted to own this state. We beat Georgia, and now we beat them,” Reed said.
Brownell tempered his enthusiasm some, saying it is way too early to make postseason predictions.
“They are going to have a great year. They are going to win a bunch of games. To win a game like this on the road is extremely difficult,” Brownell said.
A second loss in three games could drop South Carolina out of the AP Top 25 after four weeks in the rankings. Expect Clemson to get more than the one vote in the poll it received this week after this win.
Clemson wraps up its non-conference schedule at home against UNC-Wilmington on Dec. 28.
South Carolina hosts Division II Lander on Tuesday.
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