Rivalry woes: USC basketball loses lead, drops first game of season to Clemson

Purple and orange string balloons waved around the Clemson student section inside Littlejohn Coliseum. The pockets of garnet and black just behind the USC bench and above section 234 continued screaming at the Gamecocks.

Every whistle, fans in the arena held their breath. Every missed USC free throw, Clemson fans erupted. After nearly silencing the Tigers in the first 20 minutes, Clemson stormed back.

Long gone is South Carolina’s undefeated start, and revenge was served as No. 24 Clemson took the 72-67 win over South Carolina.

Tigers bouncing back

Regardless of the forgetful first half, the Tigers made the switch from PJ Hall to Joe Girard III as their main scorer two minutes into the second half and it paid off.

Girard led Clemson on an 11-0 run that brought Clemson back within one possession halfway through the second half. The Tigers finally got the leg up with nine minutes to play, and by then the rivals were trading leads.

Clemson’s defensive rebounding efforts made it near impossible for USC to pick up second-chance points during the run, and Clemson won the turnover battle.

Ian Schieffelin and Hall led the team in rebounds, with 12 and eight, respectively. Clemson scored 10 points off turnovers.

Teamwork hit

Of the eight games USC has played this season, Clemson was by far the best team game the Gamecocks played.

Ta’Lon Cooper never stopped moving on the court. Zachary Davis scored clutch 3-pointers in the first half. Meechie Johnson and BJ Mack weren’t afraid to take contested shots, and won a few. Stephen Clark got his hands dirty in the paint.

South Carolina hasn’t played a flawless game this season, but against a Clemson team where everyone has to contribute, the Gamecocks did all they could. Clemson’s Girard and Hall were top priorities on the scouting report. Sure, both players scored double-digit points, but USC didn’t make it easy on them.

The final minutes of the contest was when USC finally started showing the wear and tear. Self-inflicted errors, including letting guard Chauncey Wiggins get hot late, were more prevalent.

Still, holding the No. 24 team to 72 points on the road isn’t a bad stat. This was going to be a difficult game.

Holding the Tigers scoreless

Clemson has averaged 36.2 points in the first half this season. South Carolina held them to 23.

The Gamecocks’ defense successfully kept the ball away from Hall and Girard after the starting pair scored seven unanswered points to tie the game at 23-all. For the next 7:37, the Tigers couldn’t get anything to fall.

A few shots trickled in and out, but most just bounced off the rim. The occasional thud from the backboard grew louder and louder as USC collected rebound after rebound. Clemson had a steal just seconds before the half, but Johnson swiped it away to keep the Tigers at bay.

Twenty-three points tied Clemson’s season-low for first half points with its game against Davidson on Nov. 12.

Next four South Carolina games

Saturday: at East Carolina, noon (ESPNU)

Dec. 16: vs. Charleston Southern, 6 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)

Dec. 19: vs. Winthrop, 7 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)

Dec. 22: vs. Elon, 6 p.m. (SEC Network)