Clemson arrived in San Diego as a popular pick to be upset in the Round of 64. Instead, it advanced to the next round with a 79-68 victory over New Mexico State on Friday inside Viejas Arena.
The Tigers led comfortably for most of the night, but the Aggies did make a late push, trimming the Clemson lead down to 68-62 with five minutes, 57 seconds left to play. The Tigers responded with a 7-0 run to extend their lead back to 13 en route to victory. The Aggies missed all six of their shots during that stretch.
Redshirt junior guard Shelton Mitchell scored a team-high 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Fellow guards Gabe DeVoe and Marcquise Reed poured in 22 and 15 points, respectively.
New Mexico State was a trendy upset pick because of leading scorer Zach Lofton and elite rebounder Jemerrio Jones. The duo did what they have all season, with Lofton scoring a game-high 29 points and Jones corralling 14 rebounds and tallying 13 points.
It was Clemson’s first NCAA Tournament win since 2011.
Clemson advances to play four-seed Auburn on Sunday at 7:10 p.m. ET. The winner will move on to the Sweet 16.
Here is what Brad Brownell had to say after Friday’s victory:
On NMSU’s Jemerrio Jones and Zach Lofton: ” We knew that Jemerrio Jones was going to get a bunch of rebounds. We just didn’t want them to be put-backs for points and I don’t think many of them were. He got a couple the first play the second half, and we knew Zach Lofton would get 18 to 22 points. But we wanted him to shoot a lot of shots to get ’em. He had 29, which we didn’t do as well as we needed to do in that scenario. He took 12 threes, which is a lot and was 4 for 12.
“I thought defensively we did a lot of good things in the game, we made them really work, and it’s always harder to defend when you are up 14 or 16 in the middle of the second half against guys like that who are coming at you aggressively. It’s just the nature of basketball. It’s hard to hold on to leads like this and I thought our guys withstood it pretty well and I was pleased with the way we rebounded the ball today and made plays down the stretch against a good, aggressive team.”
On NMSU being a popular upset pick: “We mentioned it, but we’re not like some big chip on our shoulder, underdog. We talked about at the beginning of the season that we not didn’t concern ourselves with we’re picked 13th in our league and nobody believes in us because none of that really matters. It doesn’t matter in these games if you go in as a coach and give them the Knute Rockne speech and tell them all that. Three minutes into the game it’s all about making plays.
So for us it’s about preparing the right way, believing in what we’re doing and believing in each other and executing our game plan which is way more important than worrying about what’s said around the outside.”
On what the team did in the final five minutes: “I think we just, we spread it out a little bit, you know. We kind of stopped calling plays. The longer the game went the less plays we ran and we allowed our guys the freedom to make plays, get out of each other’s way a little bit because I think it was easier to play in space than it was to try and run action and force passes and do different things against that kind of pressure. I didn’t think was as productive, and when you do that you’ve got to have good players that can go make the plays and unfortunately for me we do.”
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