No. 5 Clemson torched No. 4 Clemson, 84-53, on Sunday night in the 2018 NCAA tournament’s second round, and the Tigers will take on the Midwest Regional’s No. 1 seed Kansas in the Sweet 16. This beatdown came on Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl’s birthday, incidentally, which makes the win all the more brutal for at least one member of the other Tigers’ staff.
Without context, one may be tempted to pick the Jayhawks on Thursday night in the Sweet 16, but let’s put a pin in that for a moment.
This was by no means the most lopsided game in tournament history — that honor belongs to Loyola, of all teams, and the Ramblers’ 111-42 dusting of Tennessee Tech in 1963. But this game was one of the most egregious destructions of an opponent — a higher seeded opponent, mind — in this year’s Big Dance, and it came at the hands of a team perhaps many are overlooking heading into the tournament’s second weekend.
Clemson has been to just two Sweet 16 rounds before, in 1990 and 1997, and the Tigers failed out of both trips. Given especially Clemson’s recent success on the football field, it’s easy to overlook the basketball team’s development over the last eight years under Brad Brownell, who previously coached at UNC-Wilmington and Wright State. He’s made a good thing in the Carolina upstate, and now he and his Tigers get to mess with Kansas on Thursday night.
It’s time to start paying attention to these Tigers.
Clemson was amazing against Auburn offensively.
The Tigers made 48 percent of their shots from two and 39 percent from three. They were 39-of-87 from the floor both inside and out, to say nothing of their free throw performance, which was utterly dominant. Clemson entertained 23 tries from the charity stripe and knocked down 16 of them. On Auburn’s end, should we even speak of it, the Tigers hit just seven of 32 attempts.
Further, Clemson was ripping off inside assists like this, which are impossible to defend.
Clemson ended the night with four players in double digits, including game-high scorer Gabe Defoe with 22 points. Auburn finished with just three double-digit guys scoring 10, 12, and 12 points, just two points lines better than Clemson’s Shelton Mitchell with 10. There was no way off the ropes for Bruce Pearl and company here.
Clemson’s defense was great, too.
On the night, Clemson tallied nine offensive rebounds, four steals, and six blocks. They also grabbed up 41 defensive rebounds to Auburn’s seven offensive and 25 defensive boards. Auburn may have won the turnover battle with seven forced TOs, but that 26 percent shooting night couldn’t back up their swings in momentum.
Clemson lost their second leading scorer Donte Grantham after the season’s 19th game and the Tigers dropped their last five of eight tips heading into this year’s tournament. It’s easy to overlook these Tigers, and understandably so. They don’t rank so high in many advanced metrics or in KenPom’s analytics. They flew under the ACC radar most of the season, dropped a low-scoring affair to Virginia in the ACC tournament’s second round, then quietly slid by a good New Mexico State club, 79-68, in the Big Dance’s first round.
But Sunday’s so thorough a shattering of a co-SEC regular season champion Auburn outfit can’t help but make one consider: it’s time to keep an eye on this Clemson club.