PITTSBURGH (AP) - Brad Brownell’s Clemson team was exhausted, mentally and physically, as it arrived in Pittsburgh.
The Tigers were blown out by No. 19 North Carolina last week, lost a close game to No. 5 Louisville Wednesday and even had their travel plans delayed on their way to play Pitt.
Clemson’s fatigue showed early and Brownell adjusted, going to a zone defense.
The change paid off as Clemson held Pitt to 39.6 percent shooting and Jaron Blossomgame scored 18 points to lead the Tigers to a 71-62 win on Saturday.
“We just were a half-step slow,” Brownell said. “We went to the zone to see if it would slow some things down and kind of just help us kind of get our legs back under us.”
Rod Hall added 12 for Clemson (9-6, 1-2 ACC).
“We could’ve mailed it in because we had two bad losses,” Hall said. “We started off kind of slow in ACC play and it was a big win for us to get our momentum going in the right direction.”
The Tigers outrebounded Pitt 39-22 and converted on 47.1 percent of their field goal attempts.
Blossomgame said the team was focused on winning the rebounding margin before the game, and hoped to use the team’s size to its advantage.
“On the interior, we’re a lot bigger than they are,” he said. “It was important for us to win the rebound battle.”
Clemson played four players 6-foot-8 or taller extensive minutes while Pitt forward Michael Young was the Panthers’ tallest player on the floor for most of the game at 6-foot-9. Despite the size advantage, the 6-foot-1 Hall tied with 6-foot-10 center Sidy Djitte for the team lead in rebounds at seven apiece.
Cameron Wright scored a season-high 18 points for Pitt (11-5, 1-2 ACC) and Chris Jones chipped in 11.
“We are not happy with how we played,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “They played well, we didn’t.”
Dixon’s particular point of emphasis was rebounding entering Saturday’s game, and the Panthers were outrebounded by 17 - the worst margin in Dixon’s tenure at Pitt.
“When we lose the rebounding numbers we know we’re going to lose the game,” Wright said. “It’s very difficult when that happens.”
The teams played close in the opening minutes before Clemson changed to its zone defense which hampered Pitt’s offense. The Tigers prevented the Panthers from penetrating, reducing their offense to passes around the perimeter and contested jump shots.
Clemson’s defense kept Pitt scoreless for over four minutes and after leading 14-11, the Panthers mustered only three points in the next six minutes while Clemson built a 24-17 lead.
Pitt closed in on the Tigers before the half, cutting the lead to three points behind Wright’s eight points late in the half. But Blossomgame tipped in a miss by Hall with seconds left to give Clemson a 36-31 lead.
Pitt tied the game at 44-all by keeping the Tigers off the scoreboard for about three minutes and scoring seven unanswered points. Then Clemson prevented Pitt from scoring for over five minutes and built its lead back up to 51-44 with a 7-0 run.
Clemson: The Tigers started conference play 0-2 in five of their past 15 seasons and won its third game each time. The victory Saturday avoided the program’s first 0-3 start in conference play since 1999-2000.
Pittsburgh: Saturday’s loss to Clemson was the first in program history against the Tigers. Pitt is now 3-1 all-time against Clemson.
SHARING THE WEALTH
Clemson guard Rod Hall moved into 12th all-time on the program’s assist charts with four assists Saturday, giving him 338 in his career.
Clemson plays at No. 3 Virginia Tuesday.
Pittsburgh hosts Florida State Wednesday.
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