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How Clemson’s motto led team to biggest program win since 1980

Toby Corriston
Clemson guard Chase Hunter (1) scored his biggest basket in the final minute of Clemson’s win over Arizona, hitting an acrobatic and-1 to keep the Tigers in the lead.

If you walk around Clemson’s campus or pass by Littlejohn Coliseum, you might be familiar with the word that is a trademark of the Clemson basketball team: grit.

It is on many different types of Tiger merchandise, with its infamous “Grit After Dark” theme being used any time the team has a late-night home game on a weekday in the middle of the season.

When introducing the idea to the media during the 2017-2018 season, Clemson head coach Brad Brownell put it simply.

“Grit, passion and perseverance toward a long-term goal and that can be applied to many things,” he said. “It’s not just about a season. It might be a college career. It might be a professional career. It might be graduating from college. It can pertain to just about anything. You need to have tremendous passion for something in your life if you want to be successful.”

On Thursday night, grit was on display on the biggest stage as the Tigers advanced to the Elite Eight for the second time in school history and their first time since 1980. With a gutsy 77-72 win over Arizona in the Sweet 16, Clemson recorded its most important win of the Brownell era.

With Clemson leading by as much as 13 points during the contest, the Wildcats rallied back in the second half. Following a layup by Caleb Love at the 14:33 mark in the second half, Arizona took its first lead of the game, a slight 46-45 edge.

The good news for Clemson was that it would be the only time Arizona would hold a lead for the rest of the game, and it only lasted for 20 seconds. Brownell knew his opponent would try to use a run to get back into the game, and he let his team know at halftime.

“We talked about it at halftime, ‘Guys, they’re going to make another run or two,’” Brownell said after the win. “And we’ve used the phrase ‘We’re built for this, we can handle this.’ We have confidence in our team.”

Like the Clemson head coach brought up a few years back about perseverance, the veteran-led Clemson team showed it. Following Love’s layup, on the ensuing possession, Clemson forward Jack Clark nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to give the Tigers the lead back, and, subsequently, for good.

For the last two minutes, the two teams traded blows. However, every time Arizona threw a punch to cut into its deficit lead, the Tigers responded.
With 1:06 remaining and Clemson holding a three-point lead, Brownell called a timeout before his team received the ball underneath the basket on an inbounds play. Brownell drew up an intricate play that allowed PJ Hall to deliver a two-handed dunk to put the game back to a two-possession game.

“Coach drew it in the timeout, we came out, executed a great play and Chase led me right to the rim, and it worked,” Hall said after the game. “It was a good play.”

While Arizona responded with a 3-pointer on the other end, the ball soon fell into Chase Hunter’s hands. The redshirt senior, who was dominant in his previous two tournament games, would deal the knockout blow to the Wildcats, driving into the paint, receiving contact from Arizona’s Jaden Bradley and switching to a left-handed layup in midair. With a kiss off the glass and into the hoop, Hunter hit his biggest shot as a Clemson Tiger for an and-1 layup with 25 seconds remaining.

“That was definitely a big moment for our team,” Hunter said of the shot. “When that went in, I had confidence we were going to win that game.”

To put the game truly out of reach, Chase’s younger brother, Dillon Hunter, earned some spotlight for himself, catching a cross-court pass from Joseph Girard III and finishing an and-1 layup on the other end with under 10 seconds to go, putting the nail in the coffin.

“Little bro got that and-one and sealed it for us,” Chase Hunter said of his younger brother’s play. “Big play, (it) secured the win.”

While the win is one of the biggest in program history, what excites Brownell is the ability to continue playing with such a tight-knit squad, as the team will play once again on Saturday night against No. 4 Alabama, a team that the Tigers beat back in late November.
“Today was our day,” Brownell said. “We made enough plays to win, and I’m just super happy that these guys are going to get a chance to continue to play, and we get to spend more time together.”
If the Tigers are going to reach the Final Four for the first time in school history, that Clemson grit will have to be on display once again.

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About the Contributors
Griffin Barfield
Griffin Barfield, Asst. Sports Editor
Toby Corriston, Asst. Photo Editor
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