Top Story, Men's Basketball

Despite Robinson’s Second-Half Scoring Spree, No. 25 Tigers Prevail

Before Wednesday night’s bout against Boston College men’s basketball, Clemson was a perfect 10-0 in games where it led at the break. Someone forgot to tell Jerome Robinson.

After shooting just 1-of-4 in the first half, the junior caught fire over the course of the final 20 minutes of play, racking up 26 second-half points and turning what was once a 19-point blowout into BC’s second-consecutive, last-minute ACC showdown. Robinson’s scoring spree was fueled by his career-high six 3-pointers. Unfortunately for head coach Jim Christian’s team, he was one short of victory.

Down two points with under 40 seconds left to play, the Raleigh, N.C. native crossed up David Skara and stepped back, giving him plenty of room to get off the potential game-winning shot. Right in the front of the bench, Robinson launched a 3-pointer. The ball danced around the rim before rattling out, leaving the Eagles no choice but to foul. From that point forward, Clemson iced the game with a couple of trips to the charity stripe, escaping Conte Forum with a 74-70 win.   

The Eagles (10-5, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) took their first and only lead of the night, less than two minutes into the game. Nik Popovic backed down into the post, and layed one in over Elijah Thomas to break the scoreless tie. Thanks to a few timely Steffon Mitchell and Ky Bowman 3-pointers and an acrobatic Robinson layup, BC hung around the No. 25 Tigers (13-1, 2-0) in the early going, but only by the skin of their teeth. On the other side of the court, Donte Grantham, was putting together one of the most complete games of his career.

The senior—who was one rebound shy of recording a double-double in the opening period—was at the forefront of Clemson’s first-half dominance. Time and time again, the stretch four toyed with BC’s defense. At 6-foot-8, he showcased his ability to both attack the paint and hit shots from the perimeter, knocking down three 3-pointers on the night. It was only a matter of time before the Tigers pulled away.

Grantham drilled a pair of free throws, jumpstarting a 18-2 Clemson run. Since Popovic picked up two personal fouls in the first nine minutes of play and another prior to the half, the Tigers had full reign of the interior for much of the first frame. Thomas was practically uncontested in the paint. And the backcourt duo of Gabe DeVoe and Marcquise Reed had little trouble splitting the Eagles’ defense and finishing at the rim. Backup centers Luka Kraljevic and Johncarlos Reyes had no means of preventing Clemson penetration, so they resorted to fouling those who infiltrated the key. The Tigers capitalized on the opportunity, scoring seven of their 18 points at the free throw line during the six-minute stretch.

Not only was Clemson running up the score, but it was also cracking down defensively. Head coach Brad Brownwell’s team routinely forced BC inside, pulling the Eagles’ sharpshooters off the 3-point line. By the end of the half, BC had only jacked up seven 3-pointers, on pace to finish with nine less attempts than its season average. Jordan Chatman suffered the most. After averaging 21 points in the previous five games, the junior attempted just one shot beyond the arc, and failed to etch his name into the box score.

Prior to intermission, BC showed some signs of life, outscoring Clemson, 7-3, in the last five minutes of the period. But the damage was done. The Eagles were trailing the Tigers, 38-23, and Bowman, Robinson, and Chatman—who coming into the matchup had accounted for 73.6 percent of the offense’s production over the past five games—had totaled a mere 12 points.

Chatman never found his rhythm, but the other two elevated their play in the second half—Robinson in particular. For the second-straight game, the junior single-handedly kept his team alive in the back half of play. Against No. 9 Virginia, he tore up the lane, finishing at the rack countless times. On Wednesday, he made his mark from downtown.

Clemson opened the second frame just the way it played much of the first, riding Grantham and Thomas. But, behind Robinson, the Eagles mounted a 17-6 run to cut their deficit to seven, less than eight minutes into the half. The junior drained his first five triples of the game. He kept pulling up from the same spot on the court—about 10 feet to the left of the top of the arc. Regardless of who was defending him, his shots were falling. He wasn’t the only one feeling it. Kraljevic started to heat up from the left block, netting a pair of mid-range jumpers. Soon enough, Popovic and Bowman also got in on the fun.

Even though Robinson was persistent, the Tigers were just as resilient. Grantham, who finished with a team-high 23 points, and a game-high 14 rebounds, frequently answered Robinson’s 3-pointers with long-range shots of his own. Finally, with less than five minutes to go, the Eagles made their move. After flirting with a tie game for a couple of possessions, Bowman made a beeline for the hoop. On his way up, he drew a foul, booking a trip to the line. The sophomore sunk both free throws, knotting the game up at 68.

That’s as close as BC was going to get. Unlike the Eagles’ loss to UVA, Christian got the ball to Robinson with time winding down and his team trailing by a basket, but the junior’s 3-point shot was off the mark, leaving the game in the hands of DeVoe and Mitchell. They took care of their business at the stripe, handing the Eagles another devastating loss.

Not even Robinson’s shooting frenzy was enough to make up for BC’s flat-footed first-half performance. All season, the Eagles have stumbled out of the gates. Game-opening blunders, along with BC’s other weaknesses, were clouded by the team’s best start since 2010-11 and a monumental upset over then-No. 1 Duke. Now, three games into conference play, they’re on full display.

Featured Image by Michael Dwyer / AP Photo

January 3, 2018