CLEMSON 81, PURDUE 70
MELBOURNE, FL. — Clemson forced 22 turnovers and shot just under 50 percent from the field, and the Tigers scored 23 points in the final nine minutes to move past Purdue in the championship game of the 2020 Space Coast Challenge.
The Tigers (2-0) got 24 points from Aamir Simms, with Nick Honor scoring 17 points and Jonathan Baehre adding 11 points.
Clemson saw its first-half lead dwindle to nothing, but a 12-2 run pushed them back ahead, 58-48, when Al-Amir Dawes sank a jumper with 9:02 to go. The Tigers remained in control the rest of the way, going up 15 points for their biggest lead (73-58) on a dunk from Clyde Trapp with 2:30 remaining.
The Boilermakers (1-1) played strong for a stretch in the second half — Zach Edey scored for Purdue, pulling his team within 44-41 with 13:59 left in the second half, and Trevion Williams followed with a layup at 13:22; the comeback was complete when Sasha Stefanovic hit a 3-pointer, and it was 46-46 with 12:42 to go.
Clemson used an 11-0 run in the first half to move ahead 24-13, with Simms scoring seven points in that stretch. A Trapp jumper pushed the Tigers ahead 32-19 at 3:58 for their biggest lead in the half. Purdue did make a late push, getting within 34-27 at the 2:02 mark on a dunk from Aaron Wheeler.
The Boilermakers, who were without guard Eric Hunter Jr. for the second straight game, also had to play without freshman Jaden Ivey, who scored 12 points Wednesday. Brandon Newman scored 18 points, Zach Edey added 17 points and eight rebounds, and Isaiah Thompson closed with 12 points. Purdue had a 37-24 lead in rebounds.
The all-tournament team consists of: Darius McGhee (Liberty), Tolu Smith (Mississippi State), Zach Edey and Brandon Newman of Purdue, Nick Honor of Clemson, and tournament MVP Aamir Simms of Clemson.
LIBERTY 84, MISSISSIPPI STATE 73
MELBOURNE, FL. — Superior shooting from 3-point range kept Liberty in the mix Thursday, with the Flames draining a program-record 19 shots from long range in their victory over Mississippi State in the third place game of the 2020 Space Coast Challenge.
Liberty (1-1) got 23 points from Darius McGhee (who was 7-for-11 from 3-point range) and 17 points from Elijah Cuffee, while the team had just seven turnovers on the night.
The Flames had a 13-1 run in the first four minutes of the second half. Three-pointers from McGhee and Micaiah Abii right out of the gate pushed Liberty up, 46-40; Cuffee drained another long 3 to make it 49-42 with 17:44 to go.
MSU got back within six points, 65-58, on a jumper and ensuing free throw from Abdul Ado at 7:01, but Liberty got some breathing room on a 3-pointer from Chris Parker, making the score 74-66 with 4:12 remaining.
The Bulldogs were led by D.J. Stewart Jr., who tied his career high with 20 points, and Tolu Smith, who had a career-high 20 points as well to go with seven rebounds. Ado added 14 points. Mississippi State was 15-of-19 from the free throw line, a night after shooting just 8-for-27.
Liberty hits its first five shots of the game, all 3-pointers, but Mississippi State stayed in touch, with a jumper from Stewart making it 15-15 at the 14:39 mark. MSU (0-2) took the lead at 29-28 on a steal and layup from Deivon Smith, but McGhee answered with a 3-pointer to make it 31-29 for Liberty with 5:35 remaining.
Keegan McDowell’s 3-pointer, the ninth of the half for the Flames, pushed them up 40-39 with 36 seconds to go, and the Bulldogs took the lead into the break on a jumper from Tolu Smith at the :04 mark, 41-40. Mississippi State scored just 42 points in all of Wednesday’s game against Clemson.
PURDUE 77, LIBERTY 64
MELBOURNE, FL. — Purdue shot 58 percent from the field and enjoyed productive efforts from multiple young players, moving the Boilermakers past Liberty in the opening game of the 2020 Space Coast Challenge.
Purdue (1-0) will face either Clemson or Mississippi State in Thursday’s championship game.
Three Purdue freshmen paced the team’s attack in the first half, as 7-foot-4 Zach Edey scored 19 points, Jaden Ivey tallied eight points and Brandon Newman added seven. Liberty’s Micaiah Abii, also a freshman, was 5-for-5 from the field in the half and had 12 points.
Purdue led by as many as nine points in the first half. A 3-pointer from Darius McGhee drew the Flames within 36-32, but Aaron Wheeler bombed in a 3 with two seconds left to give the Boilermakers a 39-32 lead at the break.
The second half saw Purdue maintain its lead, moving ahead 62-50 with 10:09 to go on a 3-pointer from Isaiah Thompson. Liberty made one last push, with a long 3-pointer from McGhee and two free throws from Abii making it 68-62 with 5:16 remaining.
Purdue answered with a 3-pointer from Sasha Stefanovic and a dunk by Edey, and the Boilermakers led 73-62 with 4:32 to go.
McGhee had 21 points and six rebounds, and Abii closed with 19 points. Purdue ended up with 12 points from Ivey and 10 from Wheeler; Trevion Williams had 11 rebounds and five assists. The Boilermakers closed with a 30-24 edge in rebounding and had an advantage of 36-14 in terms of points in the paint.
CLEMSON 53, MISSISSIPPI STATE 42
MELBOURNE, FL. — On a night when shots missed their mark on both sides, Clemson showed improvement in the second half and pulled away from Mississippi State, earning a spot in Thursday’s championship game of the 2020 Space Coast Challenge.
The Tigers (1-0) will face Purdue (1-0) in the title game, set for 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.
Shooting just 35 percent overall, Clemson did employ a balanced attack, with 10 players getting into the scorebook. Freshman PJ Hall had 10 points, as did Al-Amir Dawes. MSU (0-1) shot just 30 percent from the field and was a woeful 8-of-27 from the free throw line.
The Tigers expanded their second half lead to 33-25 on a 3-pointer from Clyde Trapp with 16:18 remaining. At 13:49, Alex Hemenway’s shot made it 37-28, with the Bulldog then calling a timeout.
A jumper from Hemenway made it 46-30 at the 9:13 mark; Mississippi State put together a 7-0 to close to 46-37, but a jumper from Hall pushed it back to a double-digit lead, 48-37 with 3:23 remaining.
As suggested, the first half was a low-scoring journey, with Clemson going just 3-for-18 from 3-point range but still moving out to a 26-19 lead. Mississippi State had nine turnovers in the half and was just 2-of-11 from the free throw line. Hall had eight points in the first 20 minutes; Tolu Smith had seven points.
D.J. Stewart Jr. had 12 points for MSU; Smith added 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Bulldogs (0-1), who will play Liberty in the third place game Thursday committed 19 turnovers.
by Kyle Koso
With the 2020-21 college basketball season starting up, programs will inevitably be affected by disruptions from COVID-19, testing the will and sanity of coaches from now until March Madness (or April, or May …).
For Purdue mens head coach Matt Painter, it’s a more classic obstacle that needs to be scaled — injuries — as the Boilermakers take on Liberty today at the Space Coast Challenge.
Junior guard Eric Hunter Jr. is out with a broken tibia, subtracting a key returner who averaged more than 10 points per game last year, shot a tidy 36 percent from 3-point range and was second on the team in assists. Painter has places to turn for help (Brandon Newman and Jaden Ivey, the latter whose mother is Notre Dame women’s coach Niele Ivey), but as freshmen they cart along questions that still need resolution. Two other players likely to help in games to come, freshmen guard Ethan Morton and sophomore center Emmanual Dowuona, are not 100 percent and may not play at the Space Coast Challenge either.
In fact, veteran presence is a precious commodity as the roster has no seniors at all.
On the positive front, Purdue can counter with 6-foot-10 junior Trevion Williams (11.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game), who was a preseason all-Big Ten selection, with junior Sasha Stefanovic pumping up the offense with his 39 percent shooting from long range. Guiding the Boilermakers through all these variables will require everything Painter can find in his coaching toolbox.
“You have to keep things in perspective, and each guy will be a bit different in terms of where they are emotionally. You’ll have to gauge that. You want guys to be excited about playing, but not so excited they don’t know what they‘re doing,” said Painter, who has seen his team make 11 NCAA Tournaments in his 15 years as head coach. “You want a high level of play, but there are so many factors that go into that. Having the pulse on your guys as the game progresses … like when you play a great team and getting to that first media timeout, when you tell them, ‘you’re OK, you can play in this game.’ The reassurance … for the young guys and really anybody, working through the early mistakes and be able to let those be lessons instead of a pattern.
“I always stress this, that Purdue can’t beat Purdue. Hanging in a game and not doing something that will put you in a bad spot can get you through to a win. There’s a lot of things that can unfold.”
As the Boilermakers settle in, they’ll be looking to improve their shooting numbers from as season ago, when the group shot 42 percent from the field. There were notable highs, like blowout wins over Virginia, Michigan State and Iowa, and some curious lows, like dropping more home games than in the previous four seasons combined.
So it’s no mystery that Purdue has a plan to improve upon its 16-15 finish from a year ago — the question is, which players will end up as the best problem solvers?
“It’s more about what you don’t know. You expect older players to be ready to play and not turn the ball over … you want to give yourself chances,” Painter said. "Playing smart, playing hard, giving the effort and respecting your opponent. I think young players don’t realize sometimes how good players are all over the country, and Liberty is good collectively.
“Our decision making wasn’t great (last season), or it wasn’t where it was before. People say ‘your shooting was down’ — it was down because our execution wasn’t great and our decision making wasn’t great. Fewer turnovers, clean passes where guys can catch and shoot and make plays … playing the game in a smarter sense. That’s something we need to make strides in.”
Williams is a proven load in the front court, and Purdue can go sky-high if it wants thanks to 7-4 freshman Zach Edey.
"We’ve been bringing a lot of energy at practice and trying to stay together as much as possible. You’ll have to bring your own energy, and that’s what we’ve been working on,” Williams said. “We’ll go with what we’ve got and play as hard as we can. As long as everyone plays as hard as they can, we should be fine.
“None of that stuff (preseason accolades) excites me right now and I try to be humble about it. I’ll play my hardest and do what I can on the court to make Purdue win … that’s all that matters. Pretty much everyday there’s something new we are learning, so I’m excited to play and eager to get on the court.”
Painter is looking for a bounce-back season from junior Aaron Wheeler, who shined as a freshman in the postseason but labored to find his shot last year, and is hoping his entire roster understands that no one is expecting perfection this early in a crazy, chaotic time.
“Just be productive and have fun, and don’t get stressed out, as a coach especially. When you make mistakes, put things behind you,” Painter added. “The thing we’ve really tried to emphasize is as long as we’re playing hard and doing what we want them to do, those are OK mistakes.”
by Kyle Koso
Some impressive milestones are about to be slipped into the pocket of Ben Howland, and every lesson or trick or technique he’s mastered along the way will come in very handy for the 2020-21 Mississippi State men’s team.
Howland is two wins away from 100 overall with the Bulldogs (who take on Clemson at the Space Coast Challenge on Wednesday) and has 499 career victories, with a strong legacy dating back to his days at UCLA, Pittsburgh and Northern Arizona. Last year’s MSU team reached 20 victories and had two players (Robert Woodard II and Reggie Perry) selected in last week’s NBA Draft, but it’s likely going to require some patience in the season to come in the hunt for success.
The top four scorers are gone, there are 13 underclassmen to unravel, and there’s been nothing but intrasquad workouts to help answer questions, thanks to COVID-19 related restrictions. Howland will need a deft touch in figuring out what requires patience and what needs a more stern response.
“We’re all about rising to expectations. It’s the next guy up if someone goes down, and bottom line is what I demand is to do your very best,” he said. "In the classroom and on the basketball floor, that’s what we are teaching and preaching. As long as they are giving it everything, that’s all I can ask.”
In terms of educated guesses, the Bulldogs can proceed knowing there’s been progress in the frontcourt. Abdul Ado started 31 games last year and was a defensive asset at 6-foot-11, with reports saying he’s now more aggressive on offense. Tolu Smith (sophomore transfer from Western Kentucky) is seeing the fruit of hard offseason effort, and fellow transfer Javian Davis (Alabama) is line for minutes thanks to his effectiveness on both ends of floor.
Howland likes his team to play inside-out and make sure his big men get in the flow, but he’ll also turn to two sophomore guards, Iverson Molinar and D.J. Stewart Jr. He’ll be hoping for the Bulldogs to be more careful with the basketball, as they averaged almost 14 per game last year.
“The way we practiced (Monday), you would be right … we turned it over a bunch. There’s no question that’s an issue, but we’re in a rebuilding mode,” Howland said. “We’re very young and inexperienced, so it’s every aspect of the game for us, not just one thing. We’re working on the basics, and that starts with the defensive side the floor, doing a good job on transition defense so we don’t get killed there. Allow the opponent only one shot, contesting shots, help-side defense.
“On offense, we try to push it very time we get it, and if not, we’re try to execute the offense to get good shots. The most important thing is to take good shots, and take care of the basketball. We have a lot to evaluate.”
“I feel like we can play as fast as last year’s team, and we emphasize not turning it over,” said Smith, who played two years of prep basketball in Mississippi before playing in Hawaii as a senior. “In the game of basketball, whoever has less turnovers is most likely to win. And Coach is talking a lot about that.”
Howland said he’s expecting Clemson to be a significant obstacle in terms of a season opener, with the Tigers’ experience and offensive savvy something that may make for a tough night. But he’s seen players emerge in the open space left from those who have departed, and he’s ready to see it play out at full speed.
"When I'm talking about things that I really like, this year we've probably had three guys, Deivon [Smith], Iverson and D.J, who are all great in ball screen actions,” he added. “So, we're going to get all three of those guys in a lot of ball screen situations because they're all really good at reading and creating coming off of ball screens. So, that's probably one of the best things we do right now in terms of our offense are those three guys creating out of situations."
by Kyle Koso
While accurately predicting the 2020-21 college basketball season seems impossible, thanks to COVID-19’s shadow, the Clemson men’s team is choosing to be inspired by what it already knows is possible.
The Tigers (who tip off against Mississippi State on Wednesday at the Space Coast Challenge) finished a modest 16-15 last season but flashed in the news cycle with impressive upset victories. In taking down Duke, Louisville and Florida State, it marked one of the rare times a team defeated three AP Top 6 opponents in the same season. And as good as that sounds for Clemson’s fan base, it probably comes in second behind the Jan. 11 overtime win at North Carolina, which broke an 0-for-59 losing streak in Chapel Hill.
To take the next step forward, the Tigers will deploy a more experienced roster, anchored by preseason first-team ACC selection Aamir Simms (13 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last season as a junior). They’ll also keep those good memories front and center.
“Those are great things to drawn on, and some of our guys were big parts of those games. The more of those you can put together, the better,” said head coach Brad Brownell, who enters his 12th year at Clemson. “We’re going to build upon it … you learn from losing, and you learn from the things you do well. We were a different team in January and February than December, like a lot of teams, and we were playing better basketball. We are more experienced in the backcourt (the team started two freshmen guards last year), but those guys got better.”
Defensively, the Tigers were very resolute last season, holding teams to 41 percent shooting from the field, and there’s every expectation that mindset will continue — the team also welcomes in two 6-foot-10 freshmen centers in Lynn Kidd and PJ Hall, who have the potential to impact the roster as rim protectors. If there’s a hot-button concern, it might be on offense, as Clemson shot just 31.5 percent from long range last year.
Simms (6-8, 245 lbs.) broadened his game as a junior and shot 40 percent from the 3-point line, and he’ll take on the challenge of not being too outside orientated when the team also needs him mucking in the middle for rebounds.
“You can’t be a one-dimensional player. That won’t get you far. I try not to be stuck in my ways,” said Simms, who showed he was capable as a passer as well last season and gave the NBA Draft a hard look before deciding to return as a senior. “I can get the rebound, and that opens up the offense … I can push the ball up the court and make defenses adjust when the 5 is bringing the ball up. I’ve never been a player who hunts 3’s, I let the game come to me. Being able to have balance is key for the offense, having me down low and also the perimeter makes it hard for the defense to adjust.”
“He continues to grow. Last year, I was still trying to breathe confidence in him. We put the ball in his hands, and his ability to play different ways is one of his strengths,” Brownell said. “He may not be a 20-point scorer, but his value is what he brings every day to practice, his leadership and work ethic, his knowledge, how hard he plays every day. That can be rare for seniors who have had some accolades … they’re not quite as hungry, and I don’t sense that at all from Amir.”
The thought is the Tigers won’t require as many games to find their rhythm this time around, with sophomore guards Chase Hunter and Al-Amir Dawes being more prepared. Two seniors, guard Clyde Trapp and forward Jonathan Baehre, and junior John Newman will also play important roles.
"For me to be the player I am, I have to have a great supporting cast," Simms added. "It’s all connected and goes into one thing — I learn how to play different with different lineups, and that’s not too much of a challenge to balance, to work on my goals, and what the team needs for the year. You have to be able to do both."
The challenge will be doing better work as shooters, and not leaning too heavily on Simms.
“It’s no secret, last year’s team struggled to shoot the ball. When we made 3’s, we could be very problematic and beat some the best teams in the country,” Brownell said. “We had some great wins, but physically we weren’t a team that could dominate you. We played with a lot of inexperienced players and at times were inconsistent. It’s a question mark again this year. I think we are shooting it better, and for us to have the season we want, that’s part of it.”
by Kyle Koso
While the number of teams that felt acute disappointment at the sudden ending of the 2019-20 college basketball season is enormous, you can’t accurately gauge the depth of the hurt when it comes to the Liberty men’s program.
The Flames (who tip off this season against Purdue on Wednesday at the Space Coast Challenge) had a 30-4 record when the curtain dropped, having earned a second straight berth in the NCAA Tournament after winning the Atlantic Sun tourney on March 8. Fueled by a core of seasoned, passionate and confident seniors, Liberty set a school record for wins and had every reason to think it had a special capacity to do well on the biggest stage.
All these months later, head coach Ritchie McKay will have to lean on a much less experienced group, hoping to breed in their minds that amazing and memorable basketball games can be their legacy, as well.
“There’s no substitute for being old in college basketball. We want to get old and stay old. We weren’t afforded that luxury — we anticipate guys evolving into their roles and how they can best impact winning in our family setting,” said McKay, who has four straight 20-win seasons at Liberty and guided his team over Mississippi State in 2019 for the program’s first NCAA tournament win. “Because we’ve been able to attract a high-character individual, I believe it’ll work itself out at some point."
“We’re not alone in this obstacle … we didn’t get any scrimmages or exhibitions, so it’s an arduous task to have your first game against an incredibly well-coached Purdue team that has four and five--star recruits all around their roster. There’s some angst about being exposed, but that’s why we play. We want to prepare ourselves for a very competitive conference, and there’s no better way than this privilege to play in the Space Coast Challenge.”
There are some early sources of comfort, with three-year starter Elijah Cuffee and junior Darius McGhee back in the loop. Cuffee is a lockdown perimeter defender (he’s the ASUN preseason defensive player of the year) who also led the team in assists, while McGhee (preseason all-ASUN first team as well) shot an impressive 39 percent from 3-point range and at 5-foot-8 was the team’s third leading rebounder a year ago.
“At all of 5-8, Darius has some broad shoulders. He’s a terrific scorer; he scored 3,000 points in high school but because of his size was probably overlooked by some colleges,” McKay said. “But that was all the better for us. He’s tough-minded and brings a sense of confidence. Elijah Cuffee is a really good shooter, and our version of (Boston Celtics guard) Marcus Smart. The two of them will carry the load and give us the ‘this is what it takes’ leadership. They’ve helped us win a lot of games.”
The Flames have five newcomers out of their top 11 players, so there’s a fair bit of jockeying to do to see who emerges. Shiloh Robinson and Kyle Rode, both sophomores, are primed to increase their roles and at 6-7, provide much of the size Liberty can bring to the floor.
That’s a huge topic for the team as it tangles with Purdue at the Space Coast Challenge, as McKay has done his research on the big bodies and resumes of the Boilermakers. He’s also making sure his team is mentally in the right place, as the static and duress of last season’s dramatic halt is the kind of thing that can linger.
“It’s an ongoing process. One of the hardest things about last year was going into the locker room when we were supposed to practice and telling the guys the tournament had been cancelled,” McKay said. “We had played the conference tournament, earned the No. 1 seed and got to play in front of a sold-out arena, and cut the nets. You can imagine the adulation. And for the NCAA’s … some of the anxiousness you have that first trip is eased when you get back. This group was very well-seasoned and probably had a chance. They wouldn’t have been afraid of the moment.
“Fast forward, we’re grateful no one in our families has been negatively impacted by the virus, and we’ve tried to really pay attention to our guys’ mental well-being. Surround them with a sense of love … we have some guys who are still recovering from the disappointment, but when the ball goes up Nov. 25, there will be a lot of joy and excitement that we’ve been afforded the chance to play again.”
Both games slated for Wednesday, Nov. 25 will be moved up 30 minutes, Space Coast Challenge tournament officials announced.
The Liberty vs Purdue game will now start at 5:30 p.m. ET and the Clemson vs Mississippi State game will tip at 8:00 p.m. ET. Both games will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Dave Ryan (Play-By-Play) and Bob Wenzel (Analyst) will be calling the action.
Thursday’s schedule will remain the same.
Wednesday, Nov. 25
Liberty vs. Purdue, 5:30 p.m. ET
Clemson vs. Mississippi State, 8:00 p.m. ET
Thursday, Nov. 26
Third Place Game, 6 p.m. ET
Championship Game, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Bulldogs were 20-11 last season and averaged a robust 73.4 points per game, but the top four scorers from that group are no longer on the squad. There are six freshmen listed on the roster along with seven sophomores, so head coach Ben Howland will be learning a lot about his young talent while hoping for early contributions from three transfers — Javian Davis (Alabama), Jaylen Johnson (Louisiana-Lafayette) and Tolu Smith (Western Kentucky). Howland, who had notable success as head coach at Pittsburgh and UCLA, has piloted the program to three straight 20-victory seasons.