CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Brad Brownell knows he has something many other programs don’t — a highly experienced backcourt to call on when things get tight.
Marcquise Reed had a season-high 26 points and point guard Shelton Mitchell 13 as the 19th-ranked Tigers used a second-half surge to put away pesky Sam Houston State 74-59 on Wednesday night.
“I better enjoy this, because I don’t think I’m going to have it next year,” Brownell said. “Those guys once again played well down the stretch.”
Particularly during a 16-3 run midway through the second half as they combined for 11 points while Clemson took control. The Tigers opened 3-0 for the second straight season and for just the fifth time in coach Brad Brownell’s nine years.
For a good while, though, it seemed the Bearkats of the Southland Conference were more than up to the challenge of handling an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.
RJ Smith’s 3-pointer early in the second half put Sam Houston State ahead 38-37 before Clemson’s back-breaking run.
Reed scored seven straight points to start the run while Mitchell added a pair of baskets, one off a steal where he dribbled into an official before getting clear for the layup and a 53-41 lead.
“I told him that was bad defense,” Brownell joked about Mitchell.
The Bearkats (2-2) could not respond as Clemson eventually grew the margin to 16 points down the stretch.
Both Reed and Mitchell explored their NBA options last spring before choosing a final college year. They’re each committed, Reed said, to an even bigger season than last year when the 25-win Tigers advanced to the Sweet 16.
Reed said he and Mitchell know they’re the ones who must set the tone with Clemson’s younger players.
“We’ve been in a lot of these situations and scenarios before,” Reed said. “So it’s easy to spread it to the young guys.”
Aamir Simms had 12 points and eight rebounds for Clemson.
It was Reed’s second 20-point game of the season.
Kai Mitchell led Sam Houston State with 14 points and Josh Delaney added 11.
Clemson looked ready to blow things open early as it made its first six shots and led 15-7 five minutes in. But the Tigers went cold the rest of the half, and Sam Houston State took advantage.
Clemson made just five of its final 18 shots of the opening half and the Bearkats took the lead, 30-29 on Albert Almanza’s four-point play with 43.8 seconds left when he got fouled by Elijah Thomas.
But Clemson’s Mitchell answered with a long 3 20 seconds later to send the Tigers into the break up 32-30.
THE BIG PICTURE
Sam Houston State: The Bearkats have lost two in a row on the road. They showed an ability to hang with bigger Clemson for much of the game, but could not handle the Tigers’ experience in the backcourt with three-year starters in Reed and Mitchell.
Clemson: The Tigers struggled to shoot consistently. Their defense, though, held up throughout the game as they limited Sam Houston State to less than 35 percent shooting with six steals and five blocks.
TOUGH TIME FOR THOMAS
Thomas has played through a difficult stretch. He was hurting from an ankle injury in the Tigers’ first two games and played against Sam Houston State despite being sick with the flu. Thomas had a 101-degree temperature Monday. He played 25 minutes Wednesday night with three points, five rebounds and two blocks.
Sam Houston State coach Jason Hooten has not liked what he’s seen down the stretch in his team’s first two road games. The Bearkats had the lead in the second half at Louisiana Tech and at Clemson, yet lost both games.
“There’s been a moment where we had chance to seize, I’m not going to say the game, but the lead. We’re not ready for that yet,” he said.
Sam Houston State concludes its two-game swing at Power Five programs by going to Georgia on Friday night.
Clemson plays Akron on Monday to start the Cayman Islands Classic.
Clemson announced on Friday that redshirt sophomore guard A.J. Oliver intends to transfer.
The 6-foot-5 Oliver appeared in 19 games as a freshman last season as he averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds per game. Although Oliver wasn’t much of a factor on the floor for Clemson’s Sweet 16 run last season, he started to show positive signs of life towards the end of the year. Oliver collected a season-high nine points in an ACC tournament win over Boston College while also putting up six points and six rebounds during Clemson’s blowout win over Auburn in the NCAA tournament’s Round of 32.
“I’d like to thank AJ for his commitment and dedication to our program over the last couple seasons and his contributions to a great season that ended with a Sweet 16 appearance last year,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said in a release. “We wish him the best of luck in the future.”
The son of former Clemson women’s basketball head coach Audra Smith, Oliver’s transfer might have been influenced by Smith losing her job at the end of the 2017-18 season. Smith has landed as the new women’s head coach at South Carolina State.
A former four-star prospect, Oliver is one of this season’s first transfers to come from a major program — as more are sure to follow. Clemson is regarded as the No. 22 team in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, as they have aspirations of making it back to the NCAA tournament this season.
Brad Brownell has his backcourt of the future all sewn up.
Al-Amir Dawes, a top-150 guard from New Jersey, committed to Brownell and Clemson on Thursday to give the Tigers a replacement for its graduating backcourt.
Dawes joins three-star, fellow top-150 guard Chase Hunter as the second member of Brownell’s 2019 class.
“They are losing their entire backcourt and they have Chase Hunter coming in now, too. With Al and him, and alongside quality wings that they have returning, they should be really good,” Dawes’ guardian Ayton Branch told Rivals. “They have shooters and depth at every position.
“The style of play and how Brad runs a lot of ball screens was big, as well.”
Dawes, a 6-foot-2 prospect that can play both backcourt positions, chose Clemson over the likes of Connecticut, St. Joe’s, TCU and Wichita State.
Clemson, which went 25-10 and made the Sweet 16 last season, will be losing its starting backcourt of Shelton Mitchell and Marquise Reed after the 2018-19 campaign, making finding reinforcements a priority for Brownell and his staff. Dawes averaged 15.5 points, 4.3 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 steals in EYBL action last summer.
Clemson to play UNC Wilmington for hurricane relief game
With guards Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed both entering their final season of eligibility, adding perimeter talent is critical for Clemson when it comes to the program’s 2019 recruiting class. Brad Brownell and his staff received some good news Wednesday, as three-star guard Chase Hunter announced that he will be a Tiger.
I would like to thank all the college coaches that have recruited me during this process. I will be committing to… pic.twitter.com/UiIrvdDuRX
Hunter, a 6-foot-3 guard from Atlanta (Westlake HS) whose play throughout the summer for the Atlanta Xpress led to more high-major programs getting involved in his recruitment, is Clemson’s first 2019 commitment. Hunter, who was also considering offers from Georgia, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Virginia, made his pledge just days after visiting the Clemson campus.
In total Clemson will have four scholarships available for 2019 recruits, with forwards David Skara and Elijah Thomas joining Mitchell and Reed as players who will be out of eligibility at the conclusion of the upcoming season.
Fresh off of a 25-win season and the program’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 1997, developments that led to Brownell receiving a new contract that runs through 2024, Clemson will now look to make good use of that momentum on the recruiting trail. Landing Hunter is a good first step in that regard.
Losing Graham is a major, major blow for this program, but they had as much talent sitting out this season as any program in college basketball. Cal transfer Moore should be able to step in and handle the point guard duties – if that role isn’t taken over by Dotson – while Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson will give Bill Self actual power forwards, something he has been yearning for the last two years. This team is talented, they are old, they are well coached and they have a functional point guard on their roster. There is a lot to like about the Jayhawks heading into the year.
As always, there is quite a bit of turnover on the Kentucky roster. Six key pieces from last year are gone, while the Wildcats bring in yet another loaded recruiting class. I think the combination of incoming backcourt talent and the remaining front court veterans is going to be a fun combination for Kentucky fans to watch, especially when Stanford grad transfer Travis is factored into the mix. The big question for Kentucky is going to be how they can put a team on the floor that can both shoot and play the kind of elite-level defense we all are expecting. Cal has plenty of weapons, and it will be fascinating to see how he decides to deploy them.
3. GONZAGA BULLDOGS
Who’s gone: Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams III
Who do they add: Geno Crandall, Brandon Clarke, Joel Ayayi, Filip Petrušev, Greg Foster Jr.
I’m not fully convinced that I love Perkins as a point guard, but with Norvell and Kispert a year older and Hachimura and Tillie on the front line, the Zags have a chance to be really, really good once again. Throw in the transfer additions of Clarke and Crandall as well as a couple more talented foreigners — Ayayi and Petrušev — and this is just about what you would expect for Gonzaga.
4. DUKE BLUE DEVILS
Who’s gone: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr.
Who do they add: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Joey Baker
Projected starting lineup: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Javin DeLaurier
The Blue Devils are a team that has a lot left to figure out. Bagley, Trent, Duval and Carter are all following Allen out the door to make way for another loaded recruiting class. I’m still torn on how this Duke team — which will likely end up starting four freshmen — will play. That has not always been the path to success, but the talent here is impossible to ignore. There’s a non-zero chance that Barrett, Williamson and Reddish could end up going 1-2-3 in the 2019 NBA Draft. The big question with this group is going to be how well the pieces gel together and whether or not there is enough shooting (and willing defenders) to allow this group to play the way teams like Villanova, Golden State and Boston play. I explain that line of thinking more here.
Who do they add: Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Joe Cremo
Projected starting lineup: Jahvon Quinerly, Phil Booth, Jermaine Samuels, Eric Paschall, Cole Swider
Villanova did not fair well at the NBA early entry deadline, losing four of the top 33 picks in the draft. I’m still willing to ride with the Wildcats, as I think they are more experienced than they will get credit for — Paschall and Booth are fifth-year seniors after all — and because Jay Wright’s teams always have people ready to step in and contribute immediately. Expect a breakout year from Jermaine Samuels, and don’t be surprised when Paschall is an All-American and a first round pick come the end of the season.
6. NEVADA WOLF PACK
Who’s gone: Kendell Stephens, Hallice Cooke, Josh Hall
Who do they add: Tre’Shawn Thurman, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Kwame Hymes, Vince Lee, Trey Porter, Jordan Brown
Projected starting lineup: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Trey Porter, Jordan Brown
Getting the Martin twins back is massive. Drew’s recovery from a torn achilles is also something that could be a problem, but this was a wildly talented team that came a point away from the Elite Eight despite losing their starting point guard and having their best player (Caleb Martin) deal with a foot injury the last two months of the season, and they basically bring everyone back. This is the best Mountain West team since Kawhi and Jimmer were running roughshod over the league.
7. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Who’s gone: James Daniel III
Who do they add: No one
Projected starting lineup: Lamonte’ Turner, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams
Tennessee won the SEC last season and returns literally everyone from that team outside of Daniel, who came off the bench. Williams was the SEC Player of the Year last year, and Rick Barnes has plenty of perimeter talent and switchable players at his disposal. There are also some young, talented pieces on this roster — Bone, Bowden, Yves Pons, Kyle Alexander — that still have room to develop. I don’t think it’s crazy to think Tennessee could end up making a run at a No. 1 seed.
8. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS
Who’s gone: Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Nigel Johnson
Who do they add: Kody Stattmann, Kihei Clark, Francisco Caffaro
Projected starting lineup: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Deandre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt
I’ll never doubt Virginia again (unless they are a No. 1 seed … kidding!), even when they are losing their best guard and their best defender. Hunter is ready to step up and be the star for this team, and I think Mamadi Diakite will have a chance to be an elite defensive presence. If there is a real concern here, it’s depth, but I trust Tony Bennett will be able to figure something out. Always trust in Tony.
9. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
Who’s gone: Joel Berry III, Theo Pinson, Jalek Felton
Who do they add: Coby White, Nassir Little, Rechon Black
Projected starting lineup: Coby White, Kenny Williams, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson, Luke Maye
Where you rank UNC in the preseason is going to depend entirely on two things: How good you think their freshmen — White and Little — are going to be, and what kind of development you expect out of Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks. Will there be a returning player in college basketball this season that is better than Maye?
Auburn will lose Heron, who might have been their best player last season, but return everyone else from a team that won the SEC. Their guards are just so talented, and that was without Purifoy and Doughty. The health of McLemore, who suffered a dreadful ankle injury in February, will be critical, as well as the development of Chuma Okeke. But we saw what Pearl could do with these pieces last season, and that was with the FBI investigation hanging over their head.
11. KANSAS STATE WILDCATS
Who’s gone: No one
Who do they add: Shaun Williams
Projected starting lineup: Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, Carter Diarra, Xavier Sneed, Dean Wade
This will probably be the highest that you see the Wildcats ranked heading into the season, but I really like this group. They have a crop of tough-minded, playmaking guards that can really get out and defend, and their best player might actually be a guy that the public at-large hasn’t really seen play in Wade. Bruce Weber is going to silence the haters!
12. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES
Who’s gone: Devin Wilson, Justin Bibbs
Who do they add: Jon Kabongo, Landers Nolley II, Jarren McAllister
Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear
The Hokies bring back seven of their top eight players, but the key for this team is going to be the development of their rising sophomore class: Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne. We know how good Clarke, Robinson and Blackshear are, but if those three take a step forward we could be looking at a top ten team.
13. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Who’s gone: Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling, Tum Tum Nairn
Who do they add: Foster Loyer, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham Jr., Thomas Kithier
Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford, Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman
I can’t help but look at this roster and see all the same issues that they had this past season, only without their two most talented players. Turnovers. Lack of star power. Some defensive issues. Winston has a chance to be a first-team all-Big Ten player, but Langford and Ward are going to have to live up to their potential. It feels like this group has nice pieces, but that those pieces doesn’t necessarily fit together. That said, who is better? What team is without warts?
14. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
Who’s gone: Braian Angola, C.J. Walker, Brandon Allen
I really like this group in theory. They have a whole bunch of athletic, switchable wings that can score. Mann, Walker and Kabengele returning was key, as is finding a way to get point guard depth now that C.J. Walker left the program. Getting Cofer back for a fifth-year is enormous.
15. TCU HORNED FROGS
Who’s gone: Kenrich Williams, Vlad Brodziansky, Ahmed Hamdy
Who do they add: Kendric Davis, Kaden Archie, Angus McWilliam, Yuat Alok, Russel Barlow Jr.
Projected starting lineup: Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher, Desmond Bane, Kouat Noi, Kevin Samuel
Losing Williams and Brodziansky is going to be a blow, but there are still plenty of pieces. Bane and Noi should be in line for breakout seasons, and Jamie Dixon going small-ball with a two-point guard look should be fun to watch. Will Fisher ever be healthy?
16. UCLA BRUINS
Who’s gone: Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh, G.G. Goloman, LiAngelo Ball
Who do they add: Tyger Campbell, Shareef O’Neal, Moses Brown, Kenny Nwuba, David Singleton III, Jules Bernard, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill
Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands, Prince Ali, Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley, Moses Brown
This is a make or break year for Steve Alford. With every underclassmen except Aaron Holiday back, meaning that back-to-back top five-ish recruiting classes are on campus. It’s time for the Bruins to put up or shut up, and I think they’ll be right there as a favorite to win the Pac-12 … if they decide they want to play defense.
West Virginia has survived losing program guys in past seasons, but Carter and Miles were responsible for turning West Virginia into Press Virginia. Calling them program guys is a disservice. So we’ll see how this plays out. At this point, we have to trust that Bob Huggins will figure out a way to make it work.
18. OREGON DUCKS
Who’s gone: Elijah Brown, MiKyle McIntosh, Troy Brown
Who do they add: Bol Bol, Louis King, Miles Norris, Will Richardson
Projected starting lineup: Payton Pritchard, Louis King, Paul White, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol
For my money, Oregon’s season hung on whether or not Brown returned to school, and he’s gone. Bol and King are both potential one-and-done players, and Wooten is an elite defensive prospect, but I’m in a wait and see mode with them. Personally, I’m not on the Bol Bol bandwagon, but I understand why he is, in theory, a high-level prospect. They’re here because of the talent and Dana Altman, and we bought into that.
19. SYRACUSE ORANGE
Who’s gone: Matthew Moyer
Who do they add: Buddy Boeheim, Jalen Carey, Eli Hughes, Robert Braswell
Projected starting lineup: Tyus Battle, Franklin Howard, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, Paschal Chukwu
The Orange had no depth and very little perimeter shooting last season, but it looks like that was addressed in the offseason. With Battle and Brissett back in the fold, this Syracuse team has a chance to match watchable offense with one of college basketball’s very best defenses.
20. LSU Tigers
Who’s gone: Duop Reath, Randy Onwuasor, Aaron Epps, Jeremy Combs, Mayan Kiir, Galen Alexander
Who do they add: Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams, Javonte Smart, Darius Days, Kavell Bigby-Williams
LSU is really young. They are also really talented. Waters is so entertaining, and the incoming trio of Smart, Reid and Williams is very good. Effort will be a key, as will their ability to play together, but they have a chance to be really good.
21. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Who’s gone: No one
Who do they add: Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard, Jethro Tshisumpa Mbiya, D.J. Stewart
Projected starting lineup: Lamar Peters, Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Aric Holman, Abdul Ado
I am not totally sold on Ben Howland getting this thing going at Mississippi State, but this will be his most talented team. The Weatherspoon brothers are both going to be good players, Peters still intrigues some NBA teams and Holman should fill a role. Reggie Perry should be a nice addition and an impact player as well.
22. CLEMSON TIGERS
Who’s gone: Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham, Mark Donnal
Who do they add: John Newman III, Hunter Tyson, Trey Jamison, Javan White
Projected starting lineup: Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, David Skara, Aamir Simms, Elijah Thomas
With Mitchell and Reed back in the fold, plus Elijah Thomas in the paint, this has the makings of another team that will push for a top five seed.
Who do they add: Ignas Brazdeikis, David DeJulius, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez, Colin Castleton
Projected starting lineup: Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, Jon Teske
Losing Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman, the program’s two best offensive weapons, are major blows for a team that struggled to score a season ago. Matthews’ decision to return is key and they will really be able to guard again, but one of their three big wings is going to need to take a major step forward for them offensively.
24. N.C. STATE WOLFPACK
Who’s gone: Omer Yurtseven, Al Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu, Lennard Freeman, Sam Hunt
Who do they add: C.J. Bryce, Devon Daniels, Blake Harris, Saddiq Bey, Jericole Hellems, Derek Funderburk, Ian Steere, Immanuel Bates
Kevin Keatts is going to miss Yurtseven, because he doesn’t have any size on his roster anymore. He does, however, have half-a-million guards on his roster, and all of them can play. That’s enough for me to bet on Keatts getting it done.
25. MARQUETTE GOLDEN EAGLES
Who’s gone: Andrew Rowsey, Haanif Cheatam, Harry Froling
Who do they add: Ed Morrow, Joseph Chartouny, Joey Hauser, Brendan Bailey
Projected starting lineup: Markus Howard, Joseph Chartouny, Sacar Anim, Sam Hauser, Matt Heldt
Marquette will be the second-best team in the Big East if they figure out how to defense. Howard is an all-american, while the Hauser brothers will provide plenty of offensive firepower. Chartouny’s addition is key, as is Morrow’s. Both are tough, veteran defensive presences.