CLEMSON — The moment was there.
Clemson led the No. 8 team in the country, Arizona, by six points with 12 minutes to play Saturday night. Littlejohn Coliseum was in a frenzied state, fans producing perhaps the most volume in the building since Clemson defeated Duke at home in 2009. Arizona became frustrated, felt pressure increasing, evident as Wildcats center Kaleb Tarczewski engaged Clemson senior Devin Booker in a shoving match midway through the second half.
The moment was there but perhaps the moment became too big as the Wildcats pulled away late for a 66-54 win over Clemson.
Clemson (5-3) made just two field goals in the final eight minutes. The Tigers forced shots, rushed possessions and turned the ball over too often in the final minutes. Arizona (7-0) took advantage of the lost composure, outscoring Clemson, 22-7, over the final eight minutes.
“I thought we played some good basketball for a good portion of the game but we also had some really poor plays,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “We’ve played two high-level teams (Gonzaga being the other) and played reasonably well for a large portion of the game but we can’t finish. I don’t know if it’s youth … we still don’t have that go-to scorer.”
Arizona has a number of proven scorers like Mark Lyons who had a game-high 20. Clemson has to do a better job of making shots. Clemson held Arizona to 35 percent shooting — Arizona entered shooting 52 percent for the season — but the Tigers made just 38 percent of their shots. Arizona had more size than Clemson and out-rebounded the Tigers, 44-33.
Still, there were positive indications for Clemson, most notably the continued emergence of freshman Adonis Filer.
Filer did not start the game when Clemson began the night with poor shot selection, settling for contested jumpers and shooting just 22 percent in the opening five minutes.
Filer entered the game and changed Clemson’s offensive personality. The Chicago native fearlessly attacked the basket and finished shots. Filer was key in a 13-2 run to close the half, cutting an Arizona double-digit lead to a 28-24 Wildcats’ halftime lead.
Filer finished with 10 points and played 27 minutes.
“He put pressure on their defense,” Brownell said. “That’s what he does. He’s aggressive. That was significant. I thought it opened some other things up for some other guys.”
Brownell said the next step for high-flying sophomore K.J. McDaniels is to become a better dribble-drive player and shot creator, like Arizona small forward Solomon Hill.
McDaniels made several highlight-reel dunks, but he was also more aggressive off the dribble as the game wore on and went high off the glass to give Clemson a 44-40 lead with 11 minutes to play.
McDaniels finished with 13 points, four blocks, and helped limit Hill to 2-of-16 shooting.
Former Pinewood Prep standout Milton Jennings returned from a two-game suspension to score a team-best 15 points.
A Jennings 3-pointer gave Clemson a 47-44 lead, but Arizona railed. Tarczenwski’s basket gave Arizona the lead back, 49-47, with 6:30 to play and the Wildcats never again trailed.
The Tigers will next host to Florida A&M on Saturday.