CLEMSON, S.C. — After missing the last three games due to an ankle injury, Brad Brownell was not sure what he was going to get out of Chase Hunter in No. 24 Clemson’s trip to Tallahassee, Fla., on Saturday.
Let’s just say Hunter surprised his head coach.
In fact, Hunter surprised everyone, including Florida State when he blew past the Seminoles’ defense for a layup and a drawn foul with four seconds to play. He then calmly made the game-winning free throw, as the Tigers beat FSU, 82-81, at the Tucker Center.
“I did not know if he had it in him,” Brownell said about his point guard after the game. “He did have some foul trouble so he did sit a good bit there, or at least I felt like he sat a good bit. When he is out, it feels like a lot.
“He was playing well. Sometimes, when you are playing well and making some plays, and that adrenaline kicks in, I think he had a lot of adrenaline because he has not played in two weeks. He was really excited to play today. I am sure all of those things helped.”
Hunter finished the afternoon with 26 points, with 19 of those coming in the second half. He was 7-of-12 from the field. He made 10 of his 11 attempts at the foul line, including the game winner.
“What I am worried more about is how does his ankle feel tomorrow after we get back,” Brownell said. “He is sore. That is kind of what happened to us after the Duke win. That is what I am more worried about. I cross my fingers that he will be okay.”
Florida State (7-15, 5-6 ACC) failed to get off a shot as time expired, improving the Tigers to 4-1 in ACC road games this year.
“It is critical if you are trying to win the league,” Brownell said. “You have to win a bunch of games like we have won. We have won a bunch of close games – Virginia Tech, Pitt and now this one. You have to be a little bit lucky, and you have to have guys that can make plays down the stretch.
“We had a little bit of both. We have guys make some big-time plays. We have probably been a little bit lucky, but my guys believe. My guys are confident. My guys are committed to what we are doing, and we never felt panic in any huddle. We were fine.”
Brownell did think the Tigers (18-4, 10-1 ACC) might have gotten a little bit antsy at the end of the first half after blowing a 16-2 lead to start the game. Hunter Tyson, who scored a game-high 27 points, came out on fire, hitting four three-pointers to start things off.
Tyson finished the opening 20 minutes with 17 points and was 4-for-7 from behind the arc.
“You make some shots at the beginning of the game and Hunter Tyson is throwing them in from everywhere and you think the game is going to be easy because you are playing so well,” Brownell said. “But you are like, ‘Hey! Guys, they are going to go on a run too.’”
The Seminoles did. They not only cut into Clemson’s lead, but they took a 34-33 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The second half was a back-and-forth affair. FSU extended its lead to as many as seven points, 42-35, before Tyson and PJ Hall led the Tigers back. Hall finished the game with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Clemson eventually took a 47-45 lead with 13:31 to play, before extending it to as many a seven points, 57-50, with 9:55 to go. But the Seminoles rallied again with 10 straight points to take the lead, 60-57, with 7:11 remaining.
Following two Caleb Mills’ free throws with 25 seconds to go, FSU had an 80-77 advantage. Clemson’s Chauncey Wiggins badly missed a three-pointer from the right corner with 11 seconds to play, but Ian Schieffelin chased down the rebound to keep the Tigers’ hopes alive.
Following a timeout, the Seminoles fouled Hall, who subsequently made both foul shots to pull Clemson within one, 80-79, with nine seconds left.
After Clemson fouled FSU’s Cameron Corhen, with eight seconds to go, the freshman badly missed the first foul shot, setting up Hunter’s game-winning three-point play.
Stat of the game: Clemson improved to 10-1 in ACC play. The 10 wins in 11 games to start league play marks the best start by any Clemson team in the program’s history, regardless of conference affiliation.
Injury update: Guard Brevin Galloway missed the FSU game after having emergency surgery on his groin Thursday afternoon. Guard Alex Hemenway missed his 10th straight game due to a foot injury.
Player of the Game: Chase Hunter not only made the game-winning play and subsequence free throw, but he also scored 26 points, including 19 points in the second half. With the game on the line, the point guard made 5-of-8 shots and was 8-of-9 from the charity stripe.
Key Moment: Following Brownell’s timeout with eight seconds to play, Hunter took the inbounds pass and raced up the floor where he made a contested layup and drew a foul from FSU’s Matthew Cleveland. He then calmly sank the game-winning free throw with four seconds to play.Up next: Clemson will play at Boston College on Tuesday night. Tip is set for 7 p.m. on the ACC Network.
—photo by Melina Myers / USA TODAY Sports