The prizefight lasted until the final second of the final round.
Clemson’s Marcquise Reed delivered the knockout blow.
Reed aced two free throws with 52 seconds to play to pave the way to a 62-60 win over No. 22 South Carolina on Wednesday, breaking a two-year USC winning streak in the series and giving the Gamecocks (9-2) two losses in their last three games. It seemed fitting that it was Reed, a lightly regarded sophomore transfer from Robert Morris, that made the crucial shots after an evening of Gamecock and Tiger stars trading body blows.
USC sophomore P.J. Dozier scored a career-high 26, his fifth straight game of at least 20 points, while Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame had 15. Elijah Thomas, playing in just his second game for the Tigers after transferring from Texas A&M last year, had 12.
Never miss a local story.
“It’s tough,” Dozier said. “But at the end of the day, we win as a team, we lose as a team. There were plays that happened that I know I messed up on, plays that I know my teammates messed up on. In a tough game like this, every possession counts.”
USC led 56-52 with 3:11 to play after Maik Kotsar swished a jumper, but Shelton Mitchell immediately squirted past USC’s defense to get Thomas the ball for a jam. Dozier missed a 3 and Blossomgame soared for a layup, but missed.
Blossomgame got his own rebound and dished to Thomas, who made one of two shots.
Dozier made a layup and Mitchell missed, but Blossomgame again found a rebound and tipped it in. Reed’s heroics were set up after freshman center Khadim Gueye was whistled for a foul on what looked like a clean block. Gueye had to play extended minutes when starter Chris Silva fouled out on a USC turnover, after the Gamecocks recovered the ball with the lead.
“We just couldn’t get a defensive rebound. We had a four-point lead with three to play, and we can’t get three consecutive defensive rebounds,” coach Frank Martin said. “We get one of those, it doesn’t mean we win, but maybe we go up six, maybe we go up seven. Who knows?”
Reed gave the Tigers a one-point lead and the Gamecocks missed two 3-pointers on their next possession, neither taken by Dozier or top outside shooter Duane Notice (Notice had another freezing night from the field, finishing 1-of-9 for four points). Forced to foul as the clock wound down, Clemson’s Avry Holmes polished off USC with just one miss in his final four free-throw attempts.
Dozier missed a 3-pointer for the win with less than five seconds to go. He finished 10-of-22 from the field while the rest of the team was 12-of-40.
“We got to find someone else to help on the perimeter right now,” coach Frank Martin said. “That’s going to be our mission as we go into Christmas.”
The Tigers got an early lead by running every rebound and turnover past USC’s defense before it got time to get set. Once again without top perimeter defender Sindarius Thornwell, the Gamecocks never got a handle on Clemson’s big men, who could shoot from outside as well as drive.
The Tigers walked away with a win that could look really nice in March. USC, without Thornwell for two more games, will have to try and make up the Clemson and Seton Hall losses against Lander, Memphis and the 18-game SEC schedule.
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState