CLEMSON 64, SOUTH CAROLINA 55
By PETE IACOBELLI
COLUMBIA — Rod Hall said Clemson athletes across the board were tired of South Carolina’s winning streaks. So Hall and the Tigers basketball team did something about it Sunday.
And Hall hopes Clemson’s 64-55 victory is the start of an all-sports turnaround for his school.
K.J. McDaniels had 16 points, Hall had 15 and the Tigers took control with a 21-6 run in the second half to defeat rival South Carolina 64-55 Sunday.
Clemson (5-2) came in having dropped the past two in the series. The women’s basketball team fell to South Carolina last month and, of course, it was front-page news everywhere a week ago when the Gamecocks won their fourth straight football game over rival Clemson, 27-17.
“We talked about before the game how we were going to change the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry,” Hall said. “We were losing and we had an opportunity to change it to winning. Football had a chance and they kind of blew it. So this is a good change for the school.”
The Tigers had squandered a 12-point lead in the opening half and trailed 31-28 right after halftime when McDaniels and Devin Booker got things going for Clemson.
McDaniels had four foul shots and a three-point play while Booker added eight points in the game-breaking run. When Booker hit a pair of free throws with 9:08 to play, Clemson was on top 49-37.
“We just had to go out there and keep our composure,” McDaniels said. “Even though we’re young, what we showed now means it will be better in the future.”
The future could be bright for Clemson if McDaniels and Hall keep progressing. The Tigers have just two upperclassmen in Booker and fellow senior Milton Jennings, who missed his second game since his arrest for drug possession this week.
The young guys delivered when it counted most as McDaniels, Hall and freshman Adonis Filer combined to go 23 of 31 at the foul line in sealing the win.
“Last year we were learning the system, and since we’re a year under it we know more,” McDaniels said. “It starts to help us.”
The Gamecock’s top scorer coming in, LaShay Page, finished with three points – 10 fewer than his average – on 1-of-6 shooting
South Carolina (5-3) closed to 51-47 on Bruce Ellington’s basket. But Damarcus Harrison made a 3-pointer to restore Clemson’s edge.
Booker ended with 13 points and eight rebounds. McDaniels had seven boards and five of Clemson’s eight blocked shots.
Brenton Williams led South Carolina with 16 points, three days after taking a scary fall in a loss at St. John’s. Williams was taken from the court on a stretcher. However, he showed no ill effects from the fall, playing a team-high 33 minutes.
“I was pretty nervous when it happened,” Williams said. “But when they released me from the hospital they said I was good to go.”
These schools have a rivalry in just about everything from athletics to blood drives and grade-point averages. Nothing, though, is bigger than football. Just a week ago, the Gamecocks won their fourth straight over Clemson in the series, 27-17, at Death Valley – something that only happened once before in a series that began in 1896.
And football was front and center in this one, too. Point guard Ellington, who had two touchdown catches in the Clemson win, returned to the basketball team for his first home game. Ellington’s football teammates and coach Steve Spurrier came out at halftime to the cheers of the crowd at Colonial Life Arena.
Spurrier couldn’t resist tweaking his latest state rival, saying how the Gamecocks had a big win over a team from the Upstate in South Carolina. “We beat Wofford 24-7,” he said with a smile.
He then acknowledged the Gamecocks’ win over Clemson, which made Spurrier the school’s all-time victories leader with 65.
McDaniels was happy to give the Tigers a bit of revenge. “We wanted to do this for the football team,” he said.
The Gamecocks trailed 23-11 early, yet closed the half with a 16-5 run to trail by a point at the break.
Harrison started Clemson’s decisive run with a jumper before McDaniels hit four straight foul shots. Booker followed with an inside bucket and Jordan Roper had a breakaway jam to put the Tigers up 38-33.
McDaniels had a three-point play, Hall had two of his nine made free throws and Booker scored six straight points to end the run.
Ellington had 12 points and Mindaugas Kacinas 10 for the Gamecocks.
First-year coach Frank Martin said it’s been a struggle to change the bad offensive habits of his players. He said the Gamecocks rely on individual skills instead of playing in rhythm as a group.
“It’s hard to win against anybody when you turn the ball over 20 times and you’re inept on offense,” Martin said.