CLEMSON, South Carolina – All-Atlantic Coast Conference forward Jaron Blossomgame scored 20 points to anchor five players in double figures and Clemson shot 55.6 percent in each half to defeat visiting UNCW, 87-73, in the final non-conference game for both teams Wednesday night at new-look Littlejohn Coliseum.
The Tigers won their eighth consecutive game to climb to 10-2 overall and remain undefeated at home with a clean 7-0 mark. The Seahawks, playing the first of three games in six days, stand 11-2 after having their season-long eight-game winning streak halted.
The 6-7, 220-pound Blossomgame moved into 16th on Clemson’s all-time scoring list with his 20 markers, giving him 1,360 points in his career with the Tigers. Senior guard Avry Holmes added 13 points, sophomore center Elijah Thomas collected 12, senior center Siddy Djitte scored 11 and sophomore guard Shelton Mitchell had 10 for the Tigers.
Senior guard Denzel Ingram shared scoring honors with Blossomgame with 20 points. Sophomore guard C.J. Bryce chipped in 18 points and sophomore forward Devontae Cacok finished with 14 points.
“We lost to a very good basketball team that has a chance to be an NCAA Tournament team on their home floor tonight,” said UNCW third-year Head Coach Kevin Keatts. “I respected and knew how good they were. They have great size, have a team that can shoot it and they’re led by a very good player in Jaron Blossomgame.
“I’m proud of my guys. I’m happy with our record and what we’ve been able to accomplish in the non-conference with the 11 wins, but disappointed that we lost tonight.”
In only the second meeting ever between the two teams and the first for Clemson Head Coach Brad Brownell against his former club, the Tigers used a 20-5 run midway through the first half to break away and carried a 44-31 cushion into intermission before playing even with the Colonial Athletic Association representative in the final period.
Clemson wound up connecting on an identical 15-of-27 field goals in each period for 55.6 percent on the night. UNCW had six more three-pointers than the Tigers, but Brownell’s club outscored the Seahawks at the free throw line, 25-9.
Trailing by 13 points at the break, the Seahawks shaved the deficit to 10 points twice in the first five minutes of the second half, however the Tigers answered each time and never let UNCW get closer than 14 points the rest of the way.
Clemson’s largest lead came with 6:32 remaining when Marcquise Reed raced through traffic to convert a layup and give the Tigers a 79-55 cushion.
In the first half, the Tigers jumped ahead, 17-11, on a bucket by Thomas at the 11:49 mark before the Seahawks responded with seven straight points for their first lead of the contest. Cacok converted a slam, Ingram drained a triple from the right corner and a tip-in by Bryce with 12:02 left in the opening half gave the Seahawks an early 18-17 edge.
The Tigers then used their size advantage and depth to score 10 unanswered points on the front end of the 20-5 spurt to put some distance between themselves and the visitors. Eight different players scored in the rally for the Tigers and a layup down the middle by Reed helped the Tigers open up a 37-23 gap at the three-minute mark.
The Seahawks closed the deficit to 44-31 when Ingram converted both ends of a bonus opportunity with 46 seconds left in the opening frame.
Cacok, who had not missed a shot in three games and entered the contest with 17 consecutive field goals, made his first two attempts before having the streak snapped at 19 when his third try was blocked with 5:53 left in the first half.
UNCW, the reigning CAA champions, makes its conference debut on Saturday with a New Year’s Eve date at Towson. The Seahawks and Tigers tip off at Noon at SECU Arena near Baltimore.
The Tigers, meanwhile, travel to Winston-Salem on Saturday for their ACC opener against Wake Forest’s Demon Deacons at Lawrence Joel Coliseum.
GAME NOTES: The Seahawks shot 29.7 percent in the first half, but bounced back to hit 51.5 percent in the second period…UNCW dipped to 2-36 against ACC opponents…Kevin Keatts fell to 0-3 against ACC foes…The Seahawks have lost five straight to ACC teams since beating Wake Forest on Dec. 12, 2010…UNCW used the same starters for the ninth straight game…Devontae Cacok and Marcus Bryan each fouled out…The Seahawks committed just 11 turnovers, compared to 13 for the Tigers…Four of Clemson’s five starters reached double figures…Denzel Ingram led the Seahawks in assists for the 11th time….Clemson won the rebounding battle, 41-31, but UNCW had 15 offensive rebounds to 10 for the Tigers.