In the opening two games of the season, Clemson men’s basketball gained victories over Mississippi State and Purdue, leading them to win the Space Coast Challenge. The games were a part of a four-team tournament, and although it was a small sample size and Clemson’s offense has plenty of room for growth, their persistent and aggressive defense showed promise.
In the first round of the tournament, the Tigers won over Miss. State on Wednesday, Nov. 25 with a final score of 53-42 and continued that margin of victory in the championship game with an 81-70 win over Purdue the next day on Thanksgiving. The 2-0 start is encouraging, but there was plenty of room for improvement.
As expected with many opening games this season, both Miss. State and Clemson were sluggish in the first-round matchup. In the first half alone, the Tigers shot 3-18 from beyond the arc and the Bulldogs committed nine turnovers, along with shooting 2-11 from the free-throw line. Part of the Tigers’ struggles resulted from the absence of No. 25 senior forward Aamir Simms, who is one of three seniors on Clemson’s roster and is considered to be the leader of the team. Simms committed two early fouls and was forced to sit out the majority of the first half. Those foul troubles continued into the second half when Simms eventually fouled out of the game after playing eight total minutes.
Consequently, Simms’ lack of minutes against Miss. State allowed Clemson’s No. 24, PJ Hall, to get his feet wet and play significant minutes off of the bench. Finishing the game with a team-leading ten points on 5/6 from the floor, Hall played a key role in the victory and will look to build on this performance as the season progresses.
The real story from these two games was the defensive effort from all of Clemson’s players that ultimately propelled them to move on to and win the championship game. In the first-round matchup, the Tigers forced 19 turnovers and played tight defense to force Miss. State to shoot a mere 30% from the field. In addition to the aggressive defense, the Bulldogs also shot a horrendous 8-27 from the free-throw line throughout the game, allowing Clemson to pile on the lead and win the game comfortably.
When it came time to play the championship game against Purdue, Clemson’s defense continued to display their assertiveness, forcing 21 turnovers. For Simms, the shortage of minutes from the night prior allowed him to play energized on both sides of the ball. Simms had the tough task of guarding Purdue’s 7’4” freshman, Zach Edey, who scored 19 points against Liberty in the Boilermakers’ first-round matchup. Although Edey still put up a strong 17 points, Simms held his own and forced Purdue to spread the ball around as opposed to dumping it off to the post with ease.
On the offensive side of the ball in round two of the tournament, Clemson was led by Simms and no. 4 guard Nick Honor. Simms was consistently double-teamed in the paint, but he was still able to score a game-high 24 points against the Boilermakers. Honor, who started for his first time as a Tiger, was hot from beyond the arc and contributed 17 points, along with helping on the defensive side with four steals.
After two full games, it appears that Clemson’s strength this season will be their defense. However, the Tigers need to clean up their offense after committing 24 total turnovers against the Bulldogs and Boilermakers, and there is no better place to start than the next game. For the Tigers, that game will be against South Carolina State on Dec. 2, in what will be their first home game of the year.