COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Marcquise Reed was tired of sitting out, especially with Clemson facing its state rival in South Carolina.
Reed scored 20 points in his first game since missing three contests with a knee injury to lead the Tigers to a 78-68 victory over the Gamecocks on Saturday.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell told his senior guard if he had concerns about returning not to play. But Reed, who played with a brace on his left knee, went through warmups without problems and was prepared to face South Carolina’s strenuous defensive style.
“It’s a tough game to come back for your first game,” Reed said. “But I was willing to play and sacrifice for the team and get this win.”
The victory was Clemson’s third straight in the rivalry and third in a row this season. It also gave the Tigers a sense they were whole once more with Reed back on the court, Brownell said.
“It’s a shot in the arm,” the coach said.
Reed entered with three minutes gone and quickly got in rhythm with 13 first-half points as Clemson opened a double-digit lead by halftime. The Tigers (9-3) had to hold off South Carolina (4-7), which cut a 16-point deficit down to 73-68 on Chris Silva’s inside bucket with 44.1 seconds left. Clemson responded with two foul shots by David Skara and a jam by Aamir Simms to seal the win.
Skara had 14 points and Elijah Thomas had 10 of his 11 points in the second half for Clemson.
Silva had 18 points for South Carolina, which lost its fourth in a row and second straight to an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent following a 69-52 defeat to No. 5 Virginia this past Wednesday night.
The Tigers struggled at times to control Silva down low — and trailed 30-29 after Silva completed a 3-point play with 5:09 to play.
But Clemson closed the half with a 16-4 run the rest of the half to head to the break ahead 45-34.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin again played minus three starters in guard T.J. Moss and forwards Justin Minaya and Maik Kotsar. His young team, which started two freshmen and a first-year Gamecock in grad transfer Tre Campbell, found its defensive style midway through the second half to make things tight.
“It was the best stretch of basketball we played this year,” he said.
Clemson: The Tigers needed to see a healthy and effective Reed against a Power Five opponent with Atlantic Coast Conference play looming. Clemson has a final non-conference game with Lipscomb next week before opening league play against Duke, Syracuse and Virginia.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ leading scorer A.J. Lawson, a 40 percent shooter this season, was just 2 of 15 from the floor for eight points. The freshman will need to be more consistent with Southeastern Conference play beginning on January 5 at Florida.
Clemson had 21 turnovers against South Carolina, the second game this week it had more than 20 after committing 22 in a win over Charleston Southern. Tigers coach Brad Brownell said the Gamecocks play with a tough-mindedness where opposing coaches just have to accept they’ll get forced into several errors.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin believes he’ll have junior, 6-foot-11 forward Maik Kotsar back for the team’s next game on New Year’s Eve. He’s got no timetable for the team’s other missing starters in forward Justin Minaya and guard T.J. Moss. Minaya had surgery on his right knee last month and is expected back sometime in January, but probably not in time for the Southeastern Conference opener at Florida on Jan. 5. Moss has a high ankle sprain that Martin anticipates him needing a few weeks to feel better.
Clemson is home against Lipscomb on Dec. 30.
South Carolina is home against North Greenville on Dec. 31
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