Thomas leads Clemson to 78-51 win over Bucs

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Elijah Thomas believes he’s as healthy as he’s been since arriving at Clemson. The results seem to bear that out, even if his coach still has a few questions.

Thomas, the 6-foot-9 senior, had 25 points, 14 rebounds and dominated down low in the Tigers’ 78-51 victory over Charleston Southern on Tuesday night. He says he’s mostly over the bone bruise and sprained ankle that limited him early in the season. That’s news to Clemson coach Brad Brownell.

“On the way back from the game to the locker room, he’s talking to the doctors, showing them his knee and I’m like, ‘What are you doing? You’ve already had your one deal,'” Brownell joked after the win.

Brownell can’t afford to give up any time from Thomas, especially with leading scorer Marcquise Reed missing a third straight contest with an ankle injury from earlier this month.

Brownell is not sure whether Reed will be ready to face rival South Carolina this weekend. That could mean the Tigers (8-3) will need more performances like the one from Thomas, who had six offensive boards, four blocks and two steals to go along with his points.

Thomas downplayed his effort, crediting teammates for finding him in the right spots.

“We’ve had a couple of good days of practice,” Thomas said. “We’ve been practicing hard, competing, and we had a good game plan. It worked out well for us tonight.”

The Tigers used an 18-0 run to start the second half to improve to 19-0 all-time against the Buccaneers (4-7), who lost their fourth consecutive game.

Thomas was a big reason why. The 6-foot-9 senior had 19 of his points in the opening half as the Tigers struggled to hit outside shots. That changed after the break as Clemson made four 3-pointers in its first five attempts to fuel the surge.

The Buccaneers had no answer for slowing Thomas, who had his way down low in the opening half. He scored 19 of the Tigers’ 35 first-half points, all close to the basket.

“Without (Reed) it’s tough,” Thomas said. “But we’re adjusting. We have really great coaches who put together so many great game plans for what we’ve done so far. I think the key for us is to continue to grow in practice and I think with that we’ll be fine.”

Thomas hit 9 of 12 shots on the way to his 15th career double-double and fourth this season.

Aamir Simms added 15 points and Shelton Mitchell 14 for the Tigers.

Thomas had 13 of Clemson’s 15 points during one stretch in the first period as the Tigers built an 11-point lead.

It looked like Clemson might end the half without a jumper until Mitchell hit an outside shot with 1:24 to play in the half.

Charleston Southern stayed in it with a hot hand of its own in Christian Keeling, who had 19 points off five 3-pointers in the period.

Keeling finished with 25 to lead the Bucs.

Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh said his program has to play road games like this to both help boost athletic department revenues and season themselves for the Big South Conference. “It’s hard on the players, but we’ve got to stay positive,” he said.

The Bucs have lost at Florida, at No. 20 Marquette and No. 24 Furman.

BIG PICTURE

Charleston Southern: The Bucs had kept things close in their previous three losses, losing by a total of 21 points in home and away losses to North Florida and to No. 23 Furman a week ago. But Charleston Southern wore down against its ACC opponent. They return home for a three-game stretch.

Clemson: Tigers coach Brad Brownell moved into second place all-time in coaching victories with his 157th win in his ninth season at Clemson. He is 20 wins back of career leader Cliff Ellis, now coaching at Coastal Carolina.

TROUBLE SPOT

Clemson coach Brad Brownell fixated on his team’s season-high 22 turnovers against Charleston Southern. The Tigers had averaged 12.5 turnovers coming into this one. Brownell said he’ll concentrate on that the next couple of practices before facing South Carolina.

SIMMS’ SPOT

Clemson sophomore Aamir Simms broke things open with three 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the second half. He had come in averaging fewer than two a game but found himself open and ready to take the shots.

UP NEXT

Charleston Southern: Plays a home game against Johnson & Wales on Friday night.

Clemson: Faces state rival South Carolina on the road on Saturday.