It was a battle between the Tigers, in the evenings first game of the NCAA tournament’s Round of 32 at Viejas Arena in San Diego Sunday.
Both teams wanted a chance to advance and face Kansas in the regional semifinal for a berth to the Elite 8, but only one team seemed to resemble an elite defense.
It was the Clemson Tigers (25-9) who dismantled a very good SEC co-regular season champion team in the Auburn Tigers (26-8), 84-53; while Clemson was able to disrupt any flow Auburn tried to get, limiting them to only 17 made field goals the entire game.
“I think it’s a statement game,” said Clemson guard Marcquise Reed.
“I think we showed how hard we can compete defensively. I think it’s a real good game for us moving forward.”
Aside from the field goals, Auburn struggled to get good looks at the basket the entire game, resulting in a horrific 25.8 shooting performance that had everything to do with Clemson’s intensity on the defensive end.
“Just going out and competing for 40 minutes,” added DeVoe.
“Felt like we didn’t let up at all. I think in the first half we had 15 stops in a row.”
DeVoe led Clemson in scoring with 22 points, five assists and five rebounds, while Reed added 16 points to go along with seven rebounds.
Clemson led 18-15 midway through the first half, where it looked as both teams would trade basket for basket, but things took a drastic turn for Auburn.
The Clemson Tigers went on a 25-4 run to end the first half, leading 43-19, as Auburn went on to miss 18 consecutive field goals, while also going scoreless for eight straight minutes.
Clemson led by as many as 41 points in the second half, as junior forward Elijah Thomas joined DeVoe and Reed in double figures with 18 points and 11 rebounds, along with shutting down the paint with three blocks.
“At the beginning of the year I thought this team could be really good, and the way we played out here in San Diego was an extremely high level,” said Clemson head coach Brad Brownell.
“Super happy for our team and for our fans and looking forward to the next level.”
No.5 Clemson will next face No.1 Kansas (29-7), Thursday in the Omaha Region at 4:07 p.m. on CBS, where both teams look to keep dancing in the NCAA Tournament all the way to the Elite 8.
In the second game of the evening, two teams from the state of West Virginia took the court, as No.5 West Virginia went on to throttle No.13 Marshall.
The Thundering Herd (25-11) came out of the gate firing from three-point distance, as they jumped out to an early 9-2 lead, but the Mountaineers (26-10) knew the game wouldn’t be won in just the first three minutes of the game.
Marshall was no match for West Virginia in the paint, as the Mountaineers dominated the rebound margin (40-24), ultimately leading to a thunderous 94-71 victory over the Thundering Herd, ending their march of advancing to the Sweet 16.
“We thought (rebounding) was our advantage coming in,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “We didn’t want to get in a game playing the way they want to play. They’re better playing the way they want to play than we are. We’re better when we get a lot more possessions than the option.”
Senior guard and leader, Jevon Carter led the charge for the Mountaineers, stuffing the stat sheet with 28 points, five assists, five steals and four rebounds.
“My teammates do an unbelievable job of getting me open,” said Carter.
“I come off a lot of screens. I just play within the game. I let the game come to me. I just let my defense turn into offense.”
West Virginia Forward Lamont West added 18 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, while fellow junior and sophomore teammates, James Bolden and Esa Ahmad joined West in double digits with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
With the Thundering Herd leading 18-15 midway through the first half, West Virginia then went on a 27-5 run that changed the entirety of the game, as the Mountaineers led 42-25 through 20 minutes of play.
Marshalls leading scorer Jon Elmore finished the game with 15 points, but the junior guard shot 4-for-12 from the field, as Carter made things tough for him throughout the game.
“That’s why he was the National Defensive Player of the Year a year ago and probably will be this year,” added Huggins in regards to Jevon Carter’s gritty six-steal performance.
“He shattered our steals both in the season and career. He’s had a phenomenal career. “
Carter kept things rolling in the second half as he buried a three-pointer, followed by another three-point basket by senior Mountaineers guard Daxter Miles Jr., extending their lead to 26 points, 56-30 with 16:36 remaining.
“Well, we ran into a very good, very good West Virginia team,” said Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni.
“They should be proud of the way they played. Carter is an exceptional player. He determines a lot of things out there.”
With the win, the No.5 Mountaineers advance into the Sweet 16, where they will next face No.1 Villanova (32-4), Friday at 4:27 p.m. on TBS in the East Region.