Clemson advances to NIT semifinals
Damarcus Harrison wasn't worried when Clemson trailed Belmont with less than four minutes left in the NIT quarterfinal Tuesday night.
After all, Harrison said "we'd been there lots of times before."
And the Tigers pulled off their latest late-game rally, outscoring the Bruins 12-2 down the stretch for a 73-68 win — its 12th straight home NIT victory. Harrison had 14 of his 16 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer and a 10-foot jumper that gave the Tigers (23-12) the lead for good.
Things looked bad for the Tigers after Craig Bradshaw hit two straight 3s for a 66-61 lead with 3:52 to go.
"We didn't give up," Harrison said. "We've been able to grind it out all year."
Indeed, 11 of Clemson's 14 victories since Atlantic Coast Conference play began have come by eight points or less. Just two days earlier, Illinois had wiped out Clemson's large lead and was up 49-48 when Rod Hall's driving bucket with 9.3 seconds left pulled it out for the Tigers.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell thought his club's experiences at the end — not all of them good — helped this time. He said during a couple of late timeouts, his players didn't look bothered or confused but focused on finishing the task.
"'We're fine,'" Brownell said was the sense he got. "We've been in this situation a number of times."
Bradshaw's long-range buckets seemed like they'd be the difference. But Belmont (26-10) was 0-of-4 shooting the rest of the way.
"At some point late, they upped their pressure," Bruins coach Rick Byrd said.
Hall began the rally with a three-point play, and Harrison followed with five straight points to put Clemson ahead 69-68. After a Belmont turnover, Hall hit a driving layup for a 71-68 lead and the Bruins could not respond.
Clemson fans rushed the court when the horn sounded, Brownell getting on the microphone to thank supporters who sold out the past two games at Littlejohn Coliseum. "Let's go win the championship," he told them.
Clemson reached Madison Square Garden in its last NIT appearance, falling to West Virginia in the tournament finals seven years ago. The Tigers will face SMU or California next Tuesday night.
Bradshaw had 21 points to lead Belmont.
Clemson's K.J. McDaniels added 16 points and grew emotional as the fans chanted "One More Year" at the high-flying junior considered a late first-round selection in June's NBA draft. Did McDaniels have an answer when asked if he'd played his final Clemson home game?
"I don't know," he said.
J.J. Mann had 20 points for the Bruins, whose 12 3-pointers were the most Clemson had allowed this season.
Clemson had its bumps in the NIT road to reach this point. The Tigers needed a late rally to get past Atlantic Sun Conference champ Georgia State 78-66 in the first round ament here last week and survived Illinois
Belmont had been to three straight NCAA tournaments before this season and hoped to reach its first NIT semifinals. Byrd has built a power program with the Bruins, who've handled such loud environments before — Belmont won this season at North Carolina something Clemson has never done.
And Belmont, the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season champs who lost in its league tournament, didn't let Clemson's defensive reputation change its game plan. The Bruins came into this one with 311 3-pointers, the country's fifth best total, and kept shooting the long-range shots despite Clemson leading the nation in 3-point defense.
The Tigers have held opponents to 27.9 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Belmont tested that in the first half and finished slightly ahead of the curve in making 5 of 16 long-range shots (.317) before the break. None was bigger than Reece Chamberlain's straight-on 3 with 3.3 seconds that cut into Clemson's nine-point lead and sent the game to the half with the Tigers up 37-31.
Brownell said he'd rather have qualified for the NCAA tournament, but was proud of his players' focus and effort in their NIT run. "Our team's shown some resiliency," he said.