Clemson 69, S. Carolina St. 54
Clemson coach Brad Brownell had an idea the Tigers might need some time to get started in this one.
That's what happens, though, when it takes two days to return from the Paradise Jam.
Still, the Tigers woke up in time to defeat South Carolina State 69-54 on Friday night as Jerai Grant had 14 of his 16 points in the second half and sophomore Milton Jennings got his first career double-double.
''I don't know if the two-day travel or the lack of practice is a reason for that,'' Brownell said. ''But we've got to be better. We know that.''
Especially with what's upcoming. The Tigers (5-1) face Michigan on Tuesday night in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, meet state rival South Carolina and open league play at Florida State their next three games.
''With all that said, it's going to be fun,'' said Brownell, Clemson's first-year coach.
What wasn't fun was Clemson's ordeal to get back to campus from the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
The Tigers defeated Seton Hall on Monday night in overtime to end the tournament in third place at 2-1. Then the next day, they sat for more than three hours on a flight that never budged because of mechanical problems.
Clemson scrambled to return to its hotel, then had a 5 a.m. wake up call Wednesday. More than 12 hours and stops in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Atlanta later, the Tigers wearily got off the bus at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Brownell zonked out about 9 p.m. that night. ''It was the best sleep I had in six months,'' he said.
Grant expected a slowdown once Clemson took the court.
''It was a lot of jetlag involved,'' said Grant, the son of former Oklahoma standout Harvey Grant and nephew of Tigers great Horace.
The Tigers opened 5-1 for the second straight season and improved to 10-1 against the Bulldogs of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
But it took a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Demontez Stitt at the end of the first period and Grant's dominance in the middle after halftime to take this one.
Stitt's shot as time ran out began a 14-2 run for Clemson. The 6-foot-8 Grant followed with seven of the Tigers first 11 points of the second half to move in front 43-28.
Milton Jennings had career highs with 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Tigers, while Stitt added 14 points.
Khalif Toombs had 13 points to top South Carolina State.
Darnell Porter came in as South Carolina State's leading scorer at 13.5 points a game. However, he didn't start and sat on the bench until the middle of the second half with Clemson ahead 45-30. He went 0 for 5 with 3 points.
South Carolina State coach Tim Carter said he kept Porter on the sidelines to get his attention. Noting that Brownell didn't start senior Demontez Stitt, ''I guess me and Brad were doing the same thing,'' Carter said.
A year ago, the Bulldogs had cut an 11-point lead to one in the final minute here before falling 70-67. They tried to make a similar second-half charge on Omar Sanders' 3-pointer and Khalif Toombs' jumper to get within 10, 51-41.
But Grant had two foul shots and a three-point play to restore Clemson's big edge.
Grant hit five of his six shots and was 6 of 8 from the foul line. He also added eight rebounds and half of the Tigers' six blocked shots.
''I'm starting to feel comfortable in the offense and in the things that we do,'' he said.
South Carolina State is still seeking its footing this season. The Bulldogs are 2-2, but the wins have come against Anderson of NCAA Division II and Carver Bible College of the National Collegiate Christian Athletic Association.
The Bulldogs, however, have been a thorny opponent for Clemson through the years. Two of the last four meetings were decided by a 3-pointer, including last year's contest against the then-21st-ranked Tigers.
And again, South Carolina State hung tight with its Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.
Sanders had a basket and a foul shot that cut the Bulldogs' eight-point deficit to 27-24 with 1:43 to go.
However, Stitt's fourth 3-pointer of the half as time ran out put Clemson ahead 32-26 at the break.
When Stitt came in, his left leg was heavily wrapped. It didn't hamper his effectiveness, though, as Stitt went 4 for 4 on 3s the first 20 minutes.
Brownell said Stitt was late for an appointment and sat the game's first 5 minutes.