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MBB: Clemson holds off South Carolina comeback

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS MEN'S BASKETBALL

Clemson shot lights out in the first half, then held off a South Carolina rally to win 77-68

The first half was relatively even except for one thing: Clemson couldn’t miss. Clemson shot 61.5 percent from the floor, including 6-14 from three in the first half. It started just 2-7 shooting, but then made 14-19, including nine of its final 12 attempts. South Carolina led 30-29 after five straight points by Silva, but then Clemson rode the hot shooting and finished the half on a 16-4 run.

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The Tigers’ passing was exceptional. As soon as a Gamecock defender took a step the wrong way or overcommitted, there was a pass to an open shooter whizzing by his ear.

“We struggle keeping the ball in front of us so we’re constantly in rotation,” Frank Martin said. “I thought our rotation was the best it’s been all year. Give them credit.”

After trailing by 11 at halftime and as much as 16 early in the second half, South Carolina tightened up defensively and chipped away at the lead. South Carolina pulled within six on a transition dunk by Keyshawn Bryant that brought Frank Martin, bad knees and all, to his feet and pumping his fist near the free throw line.

“That’s fun, that’s what you fight to build, to get kids to understand the resolve and how hard they’ve got to play so the other team doesn’t break your spirit but instead you stand there and say I’m coming after your spirit,” Martin said. “It was probably the best stretch of basketball we’ve played all season. We just weren’t quite good enough to close the game.”

The Gamecocks would pull within five three times, but time was on the Tigers’ side. The Tigers milked the shot clock on their possessions, shortening the game. After Silva scored in the paint with 44 seconds left to pull within five for the final time, the Gameoccks called timeout. David Skara was fouled and made both free throws. Silva’s shot was blocked, and Aamir Simms leaked out for the breakaway dunk to clinch the win. Marcquise Reed added a free throw for the final margin.

Reed, Clemson’s leading scorer, was a game-time decision with a knee injury. He warmed up, but did not start. Once he entered the game, Reed made big shot after big shot on his way to a 20-point game.

“Marcquise Reed is just a super talented player and scorer who takes a lot of pressure off our team,” Brad Brownell said. “He was a huge factor in the game for our team.”

“Marcquise Reed uplifted the spirit of that basketball team,” Martin said. “He made the other guys play better in the first half. Our spirit was really good, and then he checks in the the game and uplifts their spirit and that’s what we’re fighting.”

Silva had a vintage Chris Silva game, the sort he has rarely had this season. He scored 18 points and went 10-13 from the line, grabbed seven rebounds, two assists and blocked a shot. He avoided silly fouls, but still picked up his fourth foul with 6:30 to play, and had to sit. Silva returned with 3:15 left, but his absence stunted the Gamecocks’ momentum. Silva also directed the Gamecocks on both ends of the court, keeping all the freshmen in the right place as well as he could.

“It’s our job to lead them in the game,” Silva said. “They’re learning every day. They’ve just got to keep learning and getting better.”

Hassani Gravett finished with 14 points off the bench. Bryant had 10 points and six rebounds, and Alanzo Frink had another solid game with eight points and seven rebounds.

The loss was the third straight to Clemson, the longest losing streak in the series since losing six straight from 2004 to 2009. South Carolina has lost four straight this season, and dropped to 4-7 overall.

Notes:

Early in the second half, Silva accomplished what is believed to be a first in the history of basketball, when he was called for a goaltend for blocking a dunk. Nobody has come forward with another instance of that happening. … South Carolina was once against without Justin Minaya (knee), Maik Kotsar (concussion), and T.J. Moss (ankle/foot). Kotsar, who did not attend the game against Virginia, did attend the game Saturday and is expected back after Christmas. Moss is likely out for another month. … The National Anthem was performed by Hugh Weathers, South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture sponsors the Palmetto Series. … A.J. Lawson finished with eight points, seven rebounds, and four assists, but shot just 2-15 from the floor and did not make a single two-point field goal. … South Carolina forced 21 turnovers, but only got 26 points off. Clemson got 24 points off 14 South Carolina turnovers. … Announced attendance was 12,269. … South Carolina is of for the holidays and then returns to action December 31 against North Greenville.

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