GAME NOTES: Littlejohn Coliseum is the site of Tuesday night's NIT first-round clash between the Georgia State Panthers and the Clemson Tigers.
Clemson, a team that had NCAA Tournament aspirations but wound up on the outside looking in, is a three seed in this event. The Tigers finished 20-12 overall and 10-8 in ACC action. It is the first 20-win season for the program since 2011 when it earned a spot in its fourth straight NCAA Tournament. In terms of success in the NIT, they have gone 15-14 in the event previously.
Georgia State had a stranglehold on the Sun Belt Conference all season long. However, the Panthers, who are in their first year in the league, fell to Louisiana in the conference tournament championship game (82-81), forcing them to settle for a bid in the NIT. The Panthers are 25-8 overall, including a 17-1 mark against the rest of their conference. This is their first appearance in the NIT.
In four previous meetings between these two teams, Clemson has come out on top each time, most recently in 2006 (67-57). The winner of this bout will advance to play either Illinois or Boston University in the next round.
When Ryan Harrow's buzzer-beating attempt was off the mark at the end of overtime on Sunday, Georgia State had to watch Louisiana celebrate as Sun Belt Conference champs. The Panthers' biggest downfall in the game was on the glass, where they suffered a 46-30 disadvantage, which led to a 17-2 scoring deficit in second-chance points.
Normally, Georgia State is able to shoot its way past its shortcoming on the boards. The Panthers led the Sun Belt in shooting percentage (.473), while scoring a healthy 78 ppg. Such offensive firepower helped alleviate the negatives of their league-worst rebounding effort (31.5 rpg). R.J. Hunter (18.4 ppg) is one of the best pure scorers around, but he gets plenty of help from Harrow (17.9 pg, 4.3 apg), who has shown the ability to create not only for himself, but his teammates as well. Manny Atkins (14.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Devonta White (11.5 ppg, 4.4 apg) are also important contributors.
Clemson also had its run in the ACC Tournament end in heartbreaking fashion, as a pair of free throws from Duke's Rodney Hood in the final seconds sent the Tigers to a 63-62 loss. They did shoot 51.2 percent from the field in the contest, but they had a 34-25 deficit on the boards and 10 turnovers compared to the six they forced.
The strategy for Clemson is much different than that of Georgia State. The Tigers are much more focused on defense, holding foes to 58 ppg on 39.6 percent shooting. Each of those marks is among the top-25 nationally. The Tigers do not couple their stingy defense with a strong effort on offense, however, as they net just 63.3 ppg on 41.8 percent shooting. K.J. McDaniels (17 ppg, 7 rpg, 2.7 bpg) has shouldered a heavy burden for the team as the only double-digit scorer, while also leading the way on the glass and in blocked shots. Rod Hall (9.8 ppg, 3.9 apg) is the next best scorer and the only other one putting in more than 7.2 ppg.
This game features a clash of competing styles. Clemson's superior athleticism, especially if McDaniels gets a bit more help on offense, should carry it over Georgia State.
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