CLEMSON — Clemson’s men’s basketball team spent the past few days watching highlight after highlight of South Carolina guard Devan Downey.
“We’ve been focused on him this whole week,” Clemson guard Demontez Stitt said. “It paid off.”
Indeed it did. Downey was held to a season-low eight points, and Clemson pulled away late to beat its rival, 72-61.
It was the sixth consecutive victory in the series for Clemson (7-2).
“I don’t think it’s ever good news to lose,” USC coach Darrin Horn said. “I don’t think it’s ever good news to lose to your rival. That’ s not acceptable to us.”
It was the most competitive game in the series in five years. The Gamecocks (6-2) led briefly in the second half, and were within striking distance until late.
At halftime, USC trailed by 3 despite not having Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes, no points from Downey and playing the final 8:30 of the first half without foul-plagued Sam Muldrow.
Muldrow got it going in the second half. Downey never did.
He did not score until a free throw 15 seconds into the second half. He did not make a field goal until 10:22 remained in the game.
Trailing 61-54 with 5:33 remaining, Downey flipped up a runner on a fast break, but it rolled out, and Austin Steed was called for a foul going for the rebound. That play symbolized Downey’s and USC’s frustrations.
About a minute later, Jerai Grant threw down a dunk while being fouled by Downey. A 3 by Andre Young made it a 12-point lead, and two free throws by Tanner Smith extended it to 14 with 2:03 left.
It was the result Clemson wanted four days after a deflating loss to Illinois, when it blew a 23-point lead in the second half.
“This was a big game for us to bounce back,” Stitt said. “We knew we wanted to come in and prove that was, not so far as a fluke— we gave Illinois credit — but we didn’t want that to be something that continued on into the season.”
The key start for Clemson was Downey shooting 3-for-15 from the field, and only getting to the line twice.
Clemson attacked Downey with a combination of Stitt one-on-one, then traps by post players.
“I thought that was the key to the entire game,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said.
The Gamecocks disagreed. Horn felt his team had too many stretches in the second half where it did not rebound or take care of the ball, allowing Clemson to extend the lead.
“It was a team effort. One guy can’t beat Clemson,” said Brandis Raley-Ross, who led USC with 16 points. “We weren’t hitting shots and we were taking rushed shots. We weren’t making them work defensively.”