Layup line leads Clemson (3-0) to second-half surge over Texas Southern

GREENVILLE – Basketball, like archery or hockey or any other sport, is usually easier when the target is closer.

A 76-56 victory for the Clemson men’s basketball team over Texas Southern boiled down to two simple objectives: feed the post, deliver from short range. After scoring 31 points in the first half and trailing due to some faulty finishing, Clemson (3-0) poured in 34 points in the paint in the second half alone in front of 6,185 fans at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

“We kind of wanted to do that all game, but the first half we just didn’t get any good looks,” said junior forward Jaron Blossomgame, who totaled 22 points and nine rebounds. “Coach wanted to emphasize posting up, and it worked out in the second half for us pretty well.”

The second half began with senior center Landry Nnoko missing a layup, Clemson’s seventh missed layup of the game, and Texas Southern (0-3) scoring to lead 35-31. But then the Tigers hit layups on their next six consecutive possessions – two by Blossomgame, two by Nnoko and two by junior center Sidy Djitte.

Of the six lay-ins, four were assisted by either Jordan Roper, Donte Grantham or Avry Holmes, and the other two were putbacks. Texas Southern did not start a player taller than 6-foot-5, giving away height to the 6-10 Nnoko, 6-10 Djitte, 6-8 Grantham and 6-7 Blossomgame.

“At halftime, we certainly talked about, hey, whatever we’ve got to do to get it inside, this ball’s going inside,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “We have a size advantage here. Our guards showed good discipline and patience to find them, made good post feeds, and we found some open threes out of penetration later in possessions.”

Roper chipped in 14 points and five assists. The senior combo guard has 16 helpers and one turnover this season.

According to longtime sports information director Tim Bourret, this was Clemson’s fourth victory in recorded history by 20 points or more when the Tigers trailed at halftime.

“We’re more talented. We need to be pulling away,” Brownell said. “We knew this team tonight had more experienced players, has won their league multiple times, went to Michigan State last year and won. To our guys’ credit, we slammed the door on them in the second half.”

Djitte recorded his first double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

“It feels great. It’s about time,” said Djitte, a Senegal native playing in his 67th career game.

Djitte is averaging 8.3 points and 8.7 rebounds through three games. His career highs over his first two seasons were eight points and 10 rebounds.

“I got better (since last year,)” said Djitte. “I put in a lot of work this summer, and I’m glad it’s paying off. It’s great to feel my teammates are confident in me on offense.”

Texas Southern (0-3) starts all seniors, including three key contributors from last season’s SWAC championship team. Swingman Malcolm Riley hit three 3-pointers and led all scorers with 23 points.

Clemson now heads to the MGM Grand Main Event in Las Vegas, taking on UMass (3-0) Monday before either Creighton or Rutgers Wednesday.

“We’re playing two good teams out there. We have to keep playing confidently like we have been,” Blossomgame said. “We can’t play not to our identity; let’s keep getting stops and things will work out for us.”

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