GAME NOTES: With a trip to the NIT semifinals on the line, the Belmont Bruins will contend with the Clemson Tigers at Littlejohn Coliseum on Tuesday night.
Belmont, one of four No. 5 seeds in this event, has not faced much resistance in the NIT. The Bruins ran over Green Bay (80-65) in the first round, and then took down Robert Morris (82-71) in the second. They have won 18 of their last 21 games, but missed out on a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament after suffering a 79-73 loss to Eastern Kentucky in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament title tilt.
Rod Hall's layup with nine seconds to play was the difference in Clemson's 50-49 triumph over the Illinois in the second round of this tourney. The Tigers, who are a No. 3 seed in this event, are 22-12 overall, including their 78-66 defeat of Georgia State in the opening round.
This bout marks the first time these two schools have met on the hardwood.
JJ Mann finished with a game-high 25 points to pace Belmont in its win over Robert Morris. The Bruins only connected on 43.1 percent of their shots from the floor, but they hit a near-perfect 24-of-25 tries at the free-throw line and limited the Colonials to just 39.4 percent shooting.
Although the Bruins were on track offensively compared to their scoring average this season (80.2 ppg), the erratic shooting was out of character. Belmont is sinking 50.2 percent of its field goal attempts on the campaign, ranking second in the country. The Bruins really can't afford to miss shots, as they are collecting only 30.9 rpg. Mann (18.3 ppg) heads a list of four double-digit scorers, which also includes Craig Bradshaw (15.5 ppg), Reece Chamberlain (11 ppg, 5.4 apg) and Drew Windler (10.4 ppg).
Clemson never trailed for nearly 38 minutes to start its contest with Illinois, but the Tigers fell behind, 49-48, with 2:05 remaining on a trey from the Illini's Jon Ekey. Despite a turnover and missed 3-point attempt on their next two possessions, the Tigers were still in position to win in the final seconds, leading to Hall's heroics.
The Tigers play an entirely different brand of basketball than do the Bruins. Clemson is only scoring 63.4 ppg on 42.2 percent shooting, ranking near the bottom of the ACC in each category. However, the Tigers have been able to pile up 22 wins because of their defense, ranking 13th in the country in scoring defense (57.9 ppg) and opponent field goal percentage (.393). K.J. McDaniels (17.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.8 bpg) has been one of the unsung heroes this season, as he leads Clemson in scoring, rebounding and blocks. He is the only double- digit scorer on the roster, with Hall (9.6 ppg, 3.9 apg) the second option. The Tigers will be missing a key contributor up front in this one, however, as Jaron Blossomgame is out with a hairline fracture in his left shin.
This game features two contradictory ideologies, with the Tigers a slow-paced team that favors defense, and the Bruins more likely to push the tempo. Whichever team can dictate the development of the game will have the edge. Expect the Tigers' superior athleticism, especially down low, to help them grind out a victory.
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