How sweet it is: Clemson survives Baylor, heads to Sweet 16

Clemson is dancing into the Sweet 16.

The No. 6 seed Tigers got 20 points from Chase Hunter and survived a late surge from No. 3 seed Baylor in a 72-64 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Memphis’ FedExForum Sunday.

It’s the first Sweet 16 appearance for the Tigers since 2018. Clemson will face No. 2 seed Arizona in Los Angeles with a chance to advance to the school’s first Elite 8 appearance since 1980.

Punching its ticket to the City of Angels was far from easy for Clemson.

The Tigers (23-11) went the final six-plus minutes without a field goal as a 15-point lead dwindled all the way down to two with less than a minute remaining. When PJ Hall fouled out after Josh Ojianwuna made a steal with just 37 seconds to play, Baylor (24-11) headed to the free-throw line with a chance to tie the game.

But Ja’Kobe Walter missed both foul shots and after Clemson got the rebound, RJ Godfrey went to the line and sank both free throws to put the Tigers ahead, 68-64. He and Joe Girard helped close things out by going 6-for-6 from the foul line in the final 29 seconds after missed 3-point attempts from Walter and RayJ Dennis for Baylor.

Clemson got off to as good a start as it could have asked for by making its first three 3-pointers for an early 15-9 lead. A 3-pointer from Jack Clark and a jumper from Hall made it 22-14 as Clemson started 9-of-14 from the field in the first 10 minutes.

Hall and Ian Schieffelin ran into foul trouble and were sent to the bench.  Afterwards, Hunter found the laces with a 3-pointer for a 28-22 lead. When Chauncey Wiggins slammed one home with 1:45 left in the half, the Tigers had their biggest lead of the half at 32-22. Hunter made one of the biggest baskets of the season when he connected on a double clutch 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Clemson a 35-25 halftime lead.

Tigers coach Brad Brownell acknowledged at halftime that he could not have asked for a better first half, especially with Hall having missed the final six minutes and Schieffelin the final four. Clemson shot 54 percent from the field (6-11) and were 3-of-4 from behind the arc. The Tigers held Baylor to just 8-of-24 from the field and 3-of-9 from 3-point range.

Hall started the second half with a spin move to the basket for a 12-point lead at 37-25. Schieffelin got the crowd on its feet when he threw up a one-handed flip with his back to the rim for a basket and a 15-point lead at 61-46 with 6:44 to play.

That gave Clemson its largest lead of the game, as well as the final shot from the field for the Tigers before Baylor began mounting its comeback effort. Despite a valiant attempt, Baylor never tied the game.

Girard finished with 13 points for the Tigers, who got 11 apiece from both Hall and Schieffelin.

Dennis led Baylor with 27 points and Walter added 20 for the Bears.

Clemson never trailed in Sunday’s game.

Story originally appeared on Clemson Wire