No. 20 Clemson outlasts East Carolina 79-66
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP)—Jerai Grant shares his family’s passion for hard work. He may soon have college basketball stardom in common with his famous relatives.
Grant, Clemson’s sophomore reserve, had a career-high 14 points and gave his team a boost in the middle in a 79-66 victory over East Carolina on Saturday that improved Clemson to 14-0 for the second time in three seasons.
Grant is the son of Harvey Grant, who spent two years at Clemson before becoming a star at Oklahoma. Harvey’s brother—and Jerai’s uncle—Horace stuck around the Tigers, where he became an All-American and helped the 1986-87 team to a 17-0 start.
Jerai’s team moved a step closer to that mark against the Pirates (8-5), who have lost four straight and couldn’t keep up with Clemson’s depth.
That included Grant, a 6-foot-8 forward who made all four of his field goal attempts and was 6-of-7 from the foul line. Grant also grabbed six rebounds— five on the offensive glass—had two blocks and gave Clemson an inside force when starting forwards Trevor Booker and Raymond Sykes were getting outplayed underneath.
“I feel good when I’m out there for a while. I don’t know, the energy and everything just flows through me,” Grant said. “That’s what I do. That’s how I get off.”
The Tigers needed every bit of Grant’s enthusiasm.
East Carolina had cut a 16-point first-half lead to 36-31 right before the half. The score was 51-44 after Sam Hinnant’s bucket when Grant helped turn the momentum back to the Tigers.
Grant made three free throws, then put back K.C. Rivers’ miss. When Grant added another inside bucket a minute later, Clemson was up 63-48.
Rivers led the Tigers with 18 points. Booker had 13 points and nine rebounds.
Grant was buried on the bench his freshman season, settling for scarce minutes on a team that included forwards James Mays, Sam Perry, Booker and Sykes. So Grant, encouraged by his dad, spent his offseason working out relentlessly.
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell noticed and, with Mays and Perry gone, gave Grant a bigger role.
“I talk to my dad all the time about it,” Grant said. “He tells me to play hard, even when I’m down and things aren’t going my way.”
Just about everything has gone Clemson’s way so far. It will need Grant’s continued contributions if it hopes to equal its best-ever start, set by his uncle’s group and matched two years ago.
The Tigers face Alabama on Tuesday, then jump back into the Atlantic Coast Conference against North Carolina State next Saturday. They were among five Division I unbeatens left Saturday when the game ended.
“Anything’s possible. That’s the way the cookie crumbles,” Rivers said. “And right now, our cookie’s still solid.”
James Legan had 21 points, including five 3-pointers, to lead East Carolina.
The Pirates had opened the season 8-1, their best start in five years. But they came in on a three-game losing streak, including defeats to ACC opponents in North Carolina State and Wake Forest.
East Carolina coach Mack McCarthy said the Tigers are deeper and more versatile than those other ACC teams.
“They have a lot of answers and the players complement each other really well,” McCarthy said.
The Tigers, coming in off a satisfying win against rival South Carolina, seemed to be looking past the Pirates as their big lead shrunk at the end of the half.
Point guard Demontez Stitt was 0-for-5 the first 20 minutes. Twin inside powers Sykes and Booker were outrebounded 8-7 by East Carolina’s duo of Chad Wynn and Darius Morrow.
Long-range shooter Terrence Oglesby, with a career-best 25 points against South Carolina, was just 2 of 10 from behind the arc
Wynn finished with eight points and 11 rebounds. Brock Young had 11 points and 10 assists for the Pirates.
It was Clemson’s depth, led by Grant, that wore down East Carolina. Grant thinks he can keep up his part during this critical stretch. The nervousness he might have felt as a freshman legacy or earlier this season is disappearing.
“The more you play, the more comfortable you feel out there,” Grant said. “Then the shots just start falling.”