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Tigers have their ‘hands full’ against Baylor in NCAA Tournament

Toby Corriston
Head Coach Brad Brownell yells at his team during the game against New Mexico in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 22, 2024.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Clemson Tigers are dancing their way to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for just the seventh time in program history and are set to face the Baylor Bears on Sunday evening in Memphis at 6:10 p.m. ET on TNT.

Clemson (22-11, 11-9 ACC) exited the ACC Tournament early with a one-and-done record and had suffered three losses in its last four games leading up to the Big Dance. However, the Tigers managed to reverse their fortunes on Friday, delivering a dominant 77-56 victory over New Mexico at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee, in the opening round.

“Just happy to be here. Really proud of our team and the way we played yesterday, beat a very good, well-coached New Mexico team. Certainly have our hands full with Baylor,” head coach Brad Brownell said on Saturday.

Chase Hunter bounced back in a big way against the Lobos after a scoreless, 0-for-10 outing in Clemson’s loss to Boston College in the ACC Tournament. He scored a season-high 21 points and recorded six assists and two steals.

Facing one of the nation’s top offenses, Hunter will need to be sharp once again against the Bears, but he can’t be the only one who plays up to par.

“I think we have a lot of guys that in these games, you need multiple guys playing well,” Brownell said. “One of the things about Baylor that’s so impressive is it seems like they have (six) guys that average double figures, all between 10 and 14 points a game. It’s a little bit, all right, which one are we trying to stop? It’s hard.”

Baylor (24-10, 11-7 Big 12) stands out as the sole team in the nation with six players averaging double-digit points. The Bears are led by freshman guard Ja’Kobe Walter, who averages 14.4 points per game, along with Jalen Bridges, who has been particularly hot. Bridges scored 23 points in their opening-round game against Colgate, marking his second consecutive game with 20 or more points.

Despite not taking many threes — ranking 169th in the country in attempts from beyond the arc — Baylor has great shot efficiency, converting 39.39% of its 3-pointers, the seventh-best shooting percentage in the nation.

Clemson must replicate the strong perimeter defense from the game against New Mexico when the Tigers limited the Lobos to just 13% shooting from beyond the arc.

“They’ve always had a great offense, and it’s going to be a tough task for us, but I think, like I said, if we just stay locked in, focused where our guys are and knowing our own personnel, we’ll be all right,” Clemson guard Joseph Girard III said.

While Clemson focuses on defending Baylor’s backcourt, Baylor will need to contend with Clemson’s formidable frontcourt. PJ Hall, Ian Schieffelin, RJ Godfrey and Jack Clark all provide a lot of physicality down low.

“They’ve got very physical bigs, so we’re going to emphasize front-up posts and just trying to be physical all game with the bigs, boxing out and doing whatever we’ve got to do to keep them off their game,” Baylor guard Jayden Nunn said of Clemson.

Under head coach Scott Drew, Baylor boasts a 6-2 record in the second round of the NCAA Tournament dating back to his hiring in 2003. In contrast, Brad Brownell holds a perfect 1-0 record in the second round, where the Tigers last played in 2018 on the road to their only Sweet 16 berth under Brownell.

Sunday’s game will mark the first meeting between these two teams in 40 years. Baylor holds a slight edge over Clemson with a 2-1 overall record. Notably, both of Baylor’s wins came on neutral courts.

As Clemson looks to make a deep run in March, Sunday’s game is just the second obstacle in the team’s ultimate goal.

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Toby Corriston, Asst. Photo Editor
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