Clemson snaps 3-game skid with 72-52 win over erratic Pitt

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Clemson coach Brad Brownell figured his team was due. And in a way, Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel felt the same.

They were both right. And the muddled middle of the wide-open Atlantic Coast Conference remains as murky as ever.

Al-Amir Dawes scored 18 points, Tevin Mack added 16 and Aamir Simms finished with 12 and Clemson shook out of a prolonged shooting slump to drill Pitt 72-52 on Wednesday night.

The Tigers (12-12, 6-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) won their seventh straight over the Panthers (15-10, 6-8) by shooting 50% (22 of 44) from the field, including 13 of 22 (59%) from 3-point range. Heady territory for a team that came in making just 29% of its 3s during conference play coming in.

“Certainly we don’t shoot it like that, and when you do it makes the game a lot easier,” Brownell said. “Makes you look like a better coach.”

Justin Champagnie led Pitt with 11 points and Au’Diese Toney chipped in 10 but the Panthers missed a chance to move to .500 in the ACC just two seasons removed from going winless in the league. Those struggles predated Capel’s arrival at Pitt. The Panthers are definitely on an upward trajectory, but Capel admitted his team still needs to learn how to handle small pockets of success.

Four days after Champagnie poured in 30 points in a victory over Georgia Tech, the Panthers were buried by the Tigers for the seventh straight time. Champagnie admitted Pitt didn’t come out ready to play. His coach didn’t disagree.

“At some point, guys have to listen, they have to get over themselves,” Capel said. “They have to understand the requirements it takes to be good, consistently good, not good for a moment. As a program, we’re not there yet.”

Clemson came in averaging just 48.3 points during its three-game slide. Early on it appeared it would be more of the same. The Tigers missed their first five shots and looked out of sorts until Simms began attacking the lane and kicking the ball for open looks behind the 3-point line.

And unlike losses to Wake Forest, Virginia and Notre Dame, this time the shots went down. Clemson knocked down six 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes to take a 32-24 lead as the Panthers ended the first half with nearly as many turnovers (seven) as made baskets (eight).

““We were just bad across the board,” Capel said. “Energy, communication, execution on both sides. A really disappointing performance by us.”

Clemson’s lead ballooned to 50-31 on a layup by Mack before Pitt responded with a 14-1 surge to get within 51-45 on a pair of free throws by Xavier Johnson with 7:03 to go. The Tigers, however, steadied themselves behind Dawes and Simms. Dawes nailed a jumper to restore Clemson’s advantage to double digits. He knocked down a 3-pointer on the Tigers’ next possession as Clemson spoiled Capel’s 45th birthday by pulling away late.

“Sometimes there’s just no rhyme or reason for it,” Brownell said. “Sometimes guys get in a good place. Sometimes your team starts making a couple and it gets contagious.”

The win rekindled Brownell’s hope that his team can somehow find a way to finish in the top half of a league that’s wide-open behind frontrunners Duke, Louisville and Florida State.

“We have a hard way to go,” Brownell said. “We needed this. We needed to get a win to kind of get our spirits back.”

BIG PICTURE

Clemson: When Simms is rolling, the Tigers are a threat. Simms sat out the loss to Notre Dame thanks to the flu. He proved to be a matchup nightmare for Pitt. The 6-foot-8 junior bulled his way into the lane when being guarded by a smaller player then used his vision to find teammates camped out behind the 3-point line. Simms finished with five of Clemson’s 18 assists and was a big reason Dawes, Mack and others had so many open looks.

Pitt: The Panthers have occasionally been effective against the zone, but doing it consistently remains an issue. Capel chastised his players for being too stagnant on offense, which often forced guards Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens to dribble into the middle in hopes of making something happen. More often than not, they didn’t. The duo combined for 15 points on 2-for-20 shooting.

UP NEXT

Clemson: Hosts No. 5 Louisville on Saturday. The Tigers fell to the Cardinals 80-62 on Jan. 25.

Pitt: Travels to Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Panthers have dropped each of their last three meetings with the Hokies.