Monday, December 3, 2012

Tigers Get Some Consolation (Recap of Clemson vs. South Carolina)

Eight days after South Carolina defeated Clemson for the fourth time in a row in their long storied football rivalry, the two schools hooked up again at the Colonial Life Arena  in a men's basketball game.  This time there were no burnings of each other school's mascot.  Just a high noon start time for the Tigers and the Gamecocks.

Both teams were coming off a loss in a conference challenge.  Clemson lost at home to Purdue by twelve in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.   Meanwhile, South Carolina got hammered in Queens by St John's in the Big East/SEC Challenge.  Thus there was added incentive in the rivalry between these two Palmetto State schools.

When I got to Colonial Life Arena about forty minutes before game time, it was apparent that this was not Wisconsin Milwaukee the Gamecocks were playing.  The parking lots were full and the ticket scalpers instead of saying "Need Tickets?" had signs saying "Need tickets!"  I must have been asked at least five times if I was selling my tickets.

Inside the arena, for the first time this season, the seats behind each side of the basket were mostly full and there were a good number of people in the upper deck,.  Again, nothing sells tickets like a good intrastate rivalry.

The game started off with Michael Carrera being fouled on a shot attempt.  Carrera hit one of two free throws to give the Gamecocks a 1-0 lead.  It was the last time that South Carolina had a lead the entire half. It took over seven minutes, but Clemson would go on a 14-2 run to go up 14-3 with twelve minutes left until halftime.

The Gamecocks were struggling from the field, missing eight of their first nine shots.  If they weren't missing shots, South Carolina's was turning the ball over.  The Gamecocks' season long weakness of being careless with the ball continued as they turned the ball over seven times in the first eight minutes.  To complicate things, the Gamecocks' big men all got into foul trouble.  Carrera would have three fouls in the first half and Lakeem Jackson and RJ Slawson would each have two fouls.

Despite the first eight minutes, South Carolina did give their fans two reasons to be hopeful.  First, Bruce Ellington made his home game debut as he entered the game for Eric Smith. The crowd gave him a large BRUUUCE cheer upon his entrance.

Shortly thereafter, Brenton Williams entered the game to a warm welcome.  Williams had suffered what appeared to be a scary neck injury against St  John's after a Red Storm player landed on him while he was driving for a layup.  Williams was taken off the court on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital in New York.  Amazingly, Williams was playing only three days after the incident and he celebrated by burying a three pointer to end the Tigers run.

A K.J. McDaniels three put Clemson back up by double digits, 17-6.  They had opportunities to extend the lead further, but the Tigers turned the ball over four times and missed all three of their shots over a four minute span.  The Gamecocks cut the lead down to seven before Clemson scored five straight points to put their lead back in double digits, 23-11.

But the Gamecocks responded with an 11-0 run over the next six minutes as Williams scored six of the eleven points.  South Carolina now was back within one point and also finally had the crowd fully involved in the game.   After dominating most of the first half, Clemson went into halftime only up one point, 28-27.

The crowd gave their largest cheers of the day for the halftime festivities.  That's because there was a presentation/celebration of the Clemson-South Carolina football rivalry trophy. Coach Steve Spurrier and several players, including the phenomenal Jadeveon Clowney, came out to a thunderous ovation.  Athletic Director Ray Tanner first spoke, then Spurrier talked for several minutes, which included a funny Wofford/Clemson comparison (you had to be there).  It was a reminder that football is the big sport in Columbia, even at  halftime of the biggest non conference basketball home game of the season.

The start of the second half saw the Gamecocks score the first four points to take their first lead of the game since 1-0.  Layups by Williams and Jackson put South Carolina up 31-28. It looked as if the Gamecocks would make it two straight rivalry wins over the Tigers.

But Clemson responded with a 13-2 run over the next few minutes as the Tigers started using their frontcourt size advantage.  McWilliams scored seven points and added an assist during the run.  The Tigers were now up 41-33 with twelve and a half minutes left in the game.

The lead grew as South Carolina continued to have problems containing Clemson's big men.  Devin Booker scored six straight points and extended Clemson's lead to twelve, 49-37.  One had to wonder if Clowney was available for a few minutes to guard the paint.

But Ellington and Williams led a Gamecocks' 10-2 comeback as they scored seven of those points. An Ellington layup cut the Tigers' lead to four, 51-47.  At the under four minute media timeout, the crowd was now out at its loudest point of the game, halftime football game celebration excluded.

But Damarcus Harrison quieted the crowd with a big three pointer to put the Tigers up seven, 54-47.  He wasn't on the court long enough to celebrate it, as he quickly picked up his fifth foul.  But Carrera made only one of two free throws.

From that point, the game became a free throw shooting contest and the Tigers made their free throws.  In fact, Clemson would shoot 27 of 37 from the charity stripe and down the stretch, they put the game out of reach.  The Tigers would go up by as many as twelve before settling for a 64-55 win.

McDaniels, Booker and Rod Hall would each score in double figures for the Tigers.  Together they combined for forty four of the sixty four points scored by Clemson. McDaniels added five blocks and Booker had two of his own.

For the Gamecocks, their bench had a strong game as Ellington, Williams and Mindaugas Kacinas each scored in double figures and combined for thirty eight points.  Unfortunately, the South Carolina starters combined only scored fourteen points. The Gamecocks shot only 4 of 15 from beyond the arc and 34.6 percent overall from the field.  They also had nineteen turnovers.

For South Carolina, it was their second loss in a row after winning five of their first six games. It was also their second loss at home on the season. The Gamecocks look to bounce back with another home non conference game Friday night vs. Jacksonville.  Coach Frank Martin's team will likely have to bounce back without Ellington, who will be practicing with the football team now that South Carolina is in the Outback Bowl vs. Michigan on January 1st.

Clemson had gathered a measure of revenge beating South Carolina on its home court.  It was a solid road win for the Tigers, who are now 6-2. Coach Brad Brownell had to be pleased with the effort.

But you got the feeling that all things considered, the Clemson fans in attendance would have much rather won the football game instead.

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