LAS VEGAS — Putting on a show in the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” the Clemson University men’s basketball team stepped up under pressure and pulled off a gritty victory in the 2019 MGM Resorts Main Event. Clemson defeated TCU 62-60 at T-Mobile Arena in their opening contest of the tournament on Sunday. After putting together a 15-0 run to close out the second half, Clemson prevailed in overtime and advanced to Tuesday’s championship game.
The Tigers (5-1) knocked down 10 3-pointers, including several pivotal treys, in their first action away from Littlejohn Coliseum this season. Marking the largest comeback for the Tigers since 2011, the come-from-behind triumph saw the Horned Frogs (4-1), who made nine 3-balls, squander several leads. In fact, 10 lead changes took place in the back-and-forth affair, and the 21 turnovers forced by Clemson proved to be pivotal.
Tevin Mack led the charge for the Tigers with 22 points and nine rebounds. Mack went 5-of-10 from deep, with three of his 3-point shots coming in the first half. While Mack incited the Tigers with 13 first-half points, Aamir Simms sparked the comeback in the second half. Simms manufactured a double-double with 13 points and 12 boards, and all 13 of his points were tallied after halftime. Manning TCU’s efforts, Desmond Bane recorded 17 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double of his own.
Opening the game with a 3-pointer, Mack provided the Tigers with an early advantage. Clemson used a 7-0 run to take a 15-10 lead at the 6:39 mark of the first half, and the Horned Frogs answered with an 8-0 run. TCU sported a 25-23 lead at the intermission and did not take long to garner breathing room in the early goings of the second half. Following a dunk by Newman off a turnover out of the half, TCU produced a quick 7-0 run and eventually went up by as many as 15 points.
The Tigers remained poised, however, and outscored the Horned Frogs 15-0 over the course of the final 7:19 of the second half. A steal by Curran Scott helped facilitate a game-tying basket by Mack in the final minute, thus forcing overtime. In the bonus period, the Tigers came back from a 4-point deficit, with a 3-pointer by Al-Amir Dawes giving Clemson a lead that it did not relinquish. Dawes’ shot was netted with 1:33 remaining, and it put the Tigers ahead 61-60. The Horned Frogs missed a couple of shots near the basket on their final possession, and Mack then iced the game with a free throw.
Clemson will look to carry the momentum from its thrilling 62-60 victory into Tuesday’s championship. The Tigers will face off against the No. 23/25 Colorado Buffaloes (4-0), who won their semifinal matchup earlier in the day, on Tuesday, Nov. 26, with the tournament title on the line. The game will tip off at 11:30 p.m. EST and is scheduled to air on ESPN2.
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“That was a remarkable win. I couldn’t be any prouder of our guys for battling the way that they did. I thought our defense was good all game. I was really proud of how our players defended. I told them throughout the game to just keep defending. This is one of those wins where you keep grinding and hanging in there and hope for something good to happen.”
On the keys to the win:
“Defensively, we didn’t make it easy on TCU. We made good adjustments at halftime. This was about our kids playing hard. The thing that I’m proud of as a coach is our guys never giving in on defense. We made it hard on TCU as best we could. This was such an incredible win. I’m so happy for our players. What a gritty, tough-minded win. This was the result of playing in Italy and playing in so many close games there.”
On the performances by Tevin Mack and Aamir Simms:
“Aamir [Simms] and Tevin [Mack] played at a high level. They kept us in the game long enough for other guys to join later. Finding ways for Aamir to dribble-drive and Tevin to get shots were the two things we had working for us late.”
On the impact of Al-Amir Dawes and Curran Scott:
“Al-Amir [Dawes] is such a competitive guy. His motor runs at a high rate. This game welcomed him to basketball at a high level. As for Curran [Scott], late in the game, he showed that he’s an experienced player, and he made a nice 3-point shot after Simms delivered a beautiful pass to him. Down the stretch, Curran’s experience was very helpful.”
Photos by Brian Hennessy