Blossomgame leads Clemson to 87-73 win (Dec 28, 2016)
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson coach Brad Brownell was happy to welcome his former team to Littlejohn Coliseum. He was just as pleased it's now behind him.
Brownell's Tigers got 20 points from Jaron Blossomgame to win their eighth straight game, 87-73 on Wednesday night over UNC Wilmington, where Brownell started his head-coaching career.
Brownell spent 12 years with the Seahawks, the final four as their head coach from 2002-06 and led them to two NCAA Tournament appearances as the man in charge. It's a place he hopes Clemson (10-2) can return to this season for the first time since Brownell took the Tigers' job in 2010-11.
''I like where we are, but I don't think satisfied is the right word,'' he said. ''Now, it's time to see what we can do in league play.''
The Tigers have a strong foundation to build on so far. They had not achieved double-figure wins before ACC play since Brownell's debut season.
He knew the Seahawks (11-2) would present a challenge to his team and his emotions. Brownell got texts and messages from people back in Wilmington as the game got closer. While he watched game tape, Brownell would smile at times seeing UNC Wilmington play well at its home arena.
''I'm glad the game happened. I'm also glad we're past it,'' Brownell said.
Avry Holmes had 13 points and Texas A&M transfer Elijah Thomas 12 points in his third game with the Tigers. Sidy Djitte added 11 points and eight rebounds. It was the fourth time this season Blossomgame finished with 20 or more points.
Denzel Ingram had 20 points to lead UNC Wilmington. C.J. Bryce finished with 18 points in the Seahawks only regular-season game against a Power Five opponent.
Leading scorer Chris Flemmings ended with seven points, 10 fewer than his average, and was 0-of-7 on 3-pointers.
Still, the Seahawks grabbed an 18-17 lead on Bryce's tip-in with 10 minutes gone. That's when Clemson struck with a 23-7 run to take control. Thomas had six points and a block in that stretch as the Tigers moved in front 40-25.
''When you're playing an ACC, high major team on their floor, you've got to have everybody on the same page,'' UNC Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts said.
Clemson eventually built a 24-point lead, but UNCW outscored the Tigers 18-8 over the final seven minutes to cut into the big margin.
THE BIG PICTURE
UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks and their followers made a lot of this one because of Brad Brownell's successful ties to the program. But UNC Wilmington hadn't played a Power Five opponent all season - and probably won't again without making the NCAA Tournament. Clemson's taller, stronger players gave the Seahawks fits from the outside as they shot 8 of 31 on 3-pointers.
Clemson: The Tigers struggled at times with UNCW's in-your-face pressure and will likely see more of that once ACC play starts this weekend. Clemson's ball-handlers will have to take better care of things if team hopes to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010-11. Guards Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe combined for eight of Clemson's 13 turnovers.
When asked what he saw about Ohio State's gridiron defense, Clemson coach Brad Brownell joked, ''That they're in trouble. No. 4.'' Brownell was referring to Tigers' star, quarterback Deshaun Watson, who faces the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday night. The winner plays for a national championship.
Brownell said forward Elijah Thomas was called for a technical foul because he winked at someone. Thomas had just completed a three-point play when he picked up the foul. It looked like he was talking to someone, but Brownell said it was the eye gesture that drew the whistle.
UNC Wilmington opens Colonial Athletic Association play when it travels to Towson on Saturday.
Clemson also starts league play on the road, opening the Atlantic Coast Conference season at Wake Forest on Saturday.