CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Maybe Clemson’s in the wrong league after what the Tigers have done to the Southeastern Conference this year.
Clemson improved to 3-0 against SEC opponents this season after Rod Hall tied a career high with 20 points in a 72-61 win over Auburn on Sunday.
”This is the ACC, you’ve got to step your game up,” Hall said. ”We’re just trying not to lose against an SEC team and play the best we can.”
So far, Hall and the Tigers (6-3) have done that.
They rallied from second-half deficits to overtake LSU 64-61 in the Paradise Jam last month and then 18th-ranked Arkansas 68-65 a week ago. Hall scored 19 points against the Razorbacks, who saw a six-point lead in the final minute disappear.
Against Auburn (3-5), Clemson withstood a pressure defense that had a season-high 12 steals and took control with an 11-2 run early in the second half. Auburn got within 64-59 on Cinmeon Bowers’ foul shot with 2:10 left. Auburn had a chance to get closer, but KT Harrell missed a 3-pointer and Hall followed with a driving layup.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell is comfortable in the Atlantic Coast Conference, yet acknowledged his players get motivated facing SEC teams. The Tigers have one last SEC regular-season test, a rivalry contest at rising South Carolina on Friday night.
”Looking forward to it,” Brownell said. ”Should be a good game.”
Hall, a senior, added one more foul shot to match his career best points total set last year in a win over North Carolina State.
Demarcus Harrison added 19 points while Jaron Blossomgame had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Clemson. It was Blossomgame’s fourth double-double in the past five games.
Bowers had 17 points and 14 rebounds to lead Auburn.
Auburn had cut Clemson’s 12-point first half lead to 29-27 on Tahj Shamsid-Deen’s four-point play with 19:06 left. That’s when Clemson took over with a decisive run. Josh Smith scored four points while Hall and Harrison each had baskets in the surge.
Auburn first-year coach Bruce Pearl said too often Clemson broke the press and got easy baskets.
”Our personnel isn’t suited and we’re going to have to find ways to press without giving up so many baskets on the other end,” he said.
Clemson came in hoping for another SEC win while Auburn wanted to end a two-game stretch that included an embarrassing home loss to Coastal Carolina and coach Cliff Ellis – who had coached both these Tiger teams to NCAA tournaments – in its last outing.
Auburn came in with some fortification after 7-foot-2 Trayvon Reed and 6-foot-8 Alex Thompson were added to Bruce Pearl’s roster Friday. Plus, Antoine Mason was back from an ankle injury that cost him the past six games.
Mason, a graduate transfer who was second nationally with a 25.6-point average at Niagara, was part of an ice cold shooting first half for Auburn. Mason finished with 14 points, but with five turnovers and was called for a late technical foul.
Auburn: In 19 previous seasons as a head coach, Bruce Pearl had never faced Clemson.
Clemson: The team’s five starters are all averaging over double-figure scoring. The Tigers bench is averaging about 18 points a game.
Rod Hall played a sluggish first half with five turnovers and apologized to his coach. ”You’ve got enough in the bank with me that you can have a couple of bad halves,” Brad Brownell told his senior point guard. Hall had just three turnovers the last 20 minutes and scored 11 points in the period.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said it’s his fault for the Tigers spotty play so far this season. ”When I say we don’t know how to win yet, it’s not to bust on my team,” Pearl said. ”I’ve got to do a better job getting them to understand what we do.”
Auburn opens a five-game homestand against Winthrop on Wednesday.
Clemson plays at South Carolina on Friday.