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Clemson men's basketball drops South Carolina, 70-56

p.j. hall clemson

Clemson forward PJ Hall (24) grabs a rebound over South Carolina center Tre-Vaughn Minott (4) during first-half action in Clemson on Dec. 18, 2021. Travis Bell/SIDELINE CAROLINA

CLEMSON — The backdoor cut was open for Hunter Tyson, and he was going to take full advantage.

Upon receipt of a bounce pass from P.J. Hall, the 6-8 Tyson rose high in the air. The senior forward pumped the ball well behind his head, ready to bring a two-handed hammer down on South Carolina's Keyshawn Bryant.

It wouldn't be that easy, though, as Bryant contested with physicality. In fact, he accidentally landed an arm on Tyson's face. Clemson's big man had to settle for two free throws in the latter stages of a 70-56 win on Dec. 18 at Littlejohn Coliseum, but Tyson's effort was emblematic of his team's desires.

"Those guys are big and strong, and one of the emphases coach (Brad Brownell) had all week is we can't be out-toughed. We have to bring the physicality to them, because a lot of times they are the ones being more physical and outrebounding," Tyson said. "We didn't want that to happen."

The Tigers (8-4) didn't allow it, racking up 14 of their 19 offensive rebounds in the first half. Those first-half boards only resulted in a 9-2 advantage in second-chance points, but it set a tone.

Facing a shorthanded South Carolina team dealing with COVID-19 absences and injuries, Clemson wasn't showing any mercy. After an icy start for both teams, knotting the game at 19 with under four minutes to play in the first half, the Tigers pushed for a 30-21 edge. South Carolina's Chico Carter hit a 3 just before the buzzer going into the half, but Clemson then started the second 20 minutes with a 22-3 run to take total control.

Tyson led the Tigers with 18 points and 13 rebounds, his first career double-double. Hall added another 16 points and eight rebounds, as Clemson won the rebounding battle 51-35.

"P.J. Hall, Hunter Tyson, they just killed us in the paint," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. "Then, offensively, we could not get anything going in the paint to fight back, to try to put fouls on them or anything to get them out of the game. Credit to them, they just lined up and physically dominated us."

South Carolina (8-3) was buoyed by 21 bench points from Carter, who did his best despite the absence of starters Wildens Leveque, James Reese and A.J. Wilson. Plus, the Gamecocks were without key bench player Devin Carter, and Jermaine Couisnard played but was far from full strength.

It was far from South Carolina's best team on the floor, and the game itself was in doubt in the days leading up to it because of COVID-19 positives on the USC roster. But after the cancellation of last year's matchup due to COVID-19 issues at South Carolina, Clemson was anxious to face its rival again.

Maybe too anxious.

"I just felt like the first eight or 10 minutes of the game, we were trying so hard," Brownell said. "When you're trying to score on offense, trying too hard is not a good thing. It's like trying to make a putt, you can try and will it in, but it's not going in. Sometimes, you need to be relaxed, free mind.

"You get amped up to play defense and to fight and to rebound and get your juices going, but then you need to relax."

Clemson was able to find some separation with timely shots in the first half. Hall hit a jumper, and guard Alex Hemenway followed that with a 3. Tyson scored a second-chance bucket to push it to 30-21.

Carter's 3 to cap the first half offered Brownell an opportunity to remind the Tigers to bear down a little more defensively. South Carolina didn't score a field goal in the first eight minutes of the second half. The Tigers shot 33 percent from the field, but South Carolina only managed to hit 32.7 percent.

Hemenway, who has been lethal off the bench of late, hit a couple of 3s as Clemson pulled away. The junior guard was 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

"It don't matter if he's playing four minutes or for 40, he's going to get them up, and we know they are going in," Hall said. "I'm glancing at the rebound, but I'm pretty sure it's going in. We're confident in him right now."

Clemson's lead grew to as many as 25 points, which South Carolina cut down to down to 13 with just under nine minutes left. But the Tigers held on from there, capping a third straight win to send them into a road contest at Virginia.

Brownell had some sympathy for the Gamecocks, clearly shorthanded. But the win was meaningful, nonetheless.

"You start to get yourself in a good place and your guys are excited to compete," Brownell said. "We were excited to compete today."