Clemson got a lift from Hunter Tyson’s return to the starting lineup and regained its defensive mojo in a hard fought 54-50 win over Louisville at Littlejohn Coliseum, Wednesday night. The Tigers (10-4, 4-4) had struggled defensively during a three-game skid but returned to form and limited the Cardinals (10-4, 5-3) to 32% shooting to secure the victory.
Tyson, starting his first game in front of the home crowd this season, contributed some key baskets among his ten points and also came up with a pair of blocked shots. Tyson started two games early in the season before suffering a facial fracture in late December, forcing him to play recently with a protective mask. With Clemson struggling to string together baskets, Tyson broke a nearly six-minute scoring drought with back-to-back jumpers at the 7:43 mark, giving his team a lead they would never relinquish.
The Tigers scuffled offensively through most of the night and trailed 22-21 at the break despite a good start from Amir Simms. Clemson’s senior center was a clear mismatch for Louisville and he exploited it for 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists. After Simms scored seven points in the game’s first seven minutes, Cardinals head coach Chris Mack made the proper adjustments to limit his quality touches and force the Tigers into contested three-pointers. But that strategy eventually cleared the way for Al-Amir Dawes to step up. With Louisville’s front court collapsing on Simms, Dawes got cooking and scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half.
Simms not only delivered the opening body blows, but also the knockout punch. With less than two minutes remaining and the Tigers clinging to a 49-45 lead, head coach Brad Brownell called a timeout to draw up a set play for his senior leader. Flawless execution followed and Simms made it pay off with an old-fashioned three-point play to dash Louisville’s final hopes.
Clemson will next pay a visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium, Saturday, to square off with Duke (6-5, 4-3).