CLEMSON - The K.J. McDaniels Show lives to see another day.
McDaniels was sensational in Clemson's 78-66 NIT opening-round victory over Georgia State on Tuesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.
The Tigers (21-12) now have a 10-game winning streak in NIT home games, thanks to McDaniels' ACC-leading sixth 20-point, 10-rebound effort of the year.
The first-team all-ACC junior forward has a choice to make regarding the NBA draft this summer, but that decision was put off for a few more nights with his 30 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks despite an ailing left shoulder.
"We don't want to end our season," McDaniels said. "There's still a sharp pain in it, but I'm fighting through it. Especially in the postseason, I'll do whatever I have to do."
The Panthers (25-9) posed a challenge, looking in spurts like a bullish squad with 22 wins in its previous 24 games. Georgia State used a 7-0 run to take an early lead with a late-arriving crowd still filling in seats.
"These mid-major teams that win regular-season (titles), I've coached a bunch of them," Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. "They're highly talented, well-coached, and the biggest thing is, they have confidence. They're teams that are used to winning."
But McDaniels struck right back with seven points of his own in 57 seconds, converting a 23-22 deficit into a 6-point lead with three minutes left in the first half. In the final 23 minutes of action, Georgia State led for just 21 seconds, early in the second period.
Jordan Roper's corner 3-pointer gave Clemson a 62-52 lead with just under six minutes to play, its first double-digit cushion of the night.
Looking long-term, Clemson might have dodged a serious bullet. Redshirt freshman forward Jaron Blossomgame went down hard after a second-half shot attempt, appearing to fall awkwardly on the same left leg he broke in the spring of 2012.
As nine of the 10 players on court went the other way, Blossomgame was able to roll over and rise to his feet by himself. The whistle blew after Georgia State scored a basket, and two teammates hoisted Blossomgame to the bench.
"That was kind of scary, the way he fell, it didn't look too good," said junior Damarcus Harrison, who was on the bench with a front-row view. "But I think he's fine; he said his leg's just sore, because I don't think you can break a rod."
One of Clemson's building blocks for the future (and perhaps life after McDaniels as soon as next season), Blossomgame did not return to the game, the injury deemed a twisted leg.
He walked unassisted to the locker room later in the second half with trainer Andy McPherson, but returned after a few moments. His status is yet to be determined for the rest of the tournament.
"We're optimistic nothing's wrong, but I know it scared the heck out of him," Brownell said. "They're gonna X-ray him and take a look, but it was painful."
Blossomgame tweeted postgame, "Looked a lot (worse) than it actually was! No worries, getting checked at the doctor tomorrow morning."
Next up, Clemson is guaranteed to host Wednesday night's victor between No. 2 seed Illinois (19-14) and No. 7 Boston University (24-10). Because the Fighting Illini's gym is undergoing renovations, Littlejohn Coliseum will be the site.
That game will likely be either Saturday afternoon or Sunday late afternoon or evening, creating a doubleheader with one of Clemson's home baseball games against Florida State across the street at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
With No. 1 seed St. John's being upset Tuesday night by Robert Morris, Clemson also would be in line to host an NIT quarterfinal March 25 or March 26, with a trip to New York City for the semifinal and championship rounds on the line.
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