The Littlejohn Colliseum was rocking with orange colored shirts as Clemson possessed a four point lead, all the momentum, and appeared set on putting an end to Arizona’s undefeated record.
Then Mark Lyons came up with a steal. Followed were two made free throws and the lead was cut to two. Shortly after, Lyons perfectly implemented a screen to find Kaleb Tarczewski wide open down low and the Cats retook the lead with a little less than eight minutes to go.
Lyons, the transfer senior who originally committed to play for Sean Miller at Xavier, annihilated Clemson’s hopes of an upset with a dagger drive to the hoop to give Arizona an insurmountable nine point lead as the clock on the scoreboard read 3:00.
Crisis averted. Euphoria still alive.
The Cats get to leave the state of South Carolina with a road win, a 7-0 record, a top 10 ranking, and an assurance that Lyons can lead Arizona through adverse situations, even if he isn’t your prototypical point guard.
However, Clemson certainly shined a light on some of Arizona’s glaring flaws, most noticeably the reliance on the outside shot.
While the Cats were one of the better three point shooting teams heading into the matchup, it became apparent that when the treys don’t fall, Arizona’s offense stalls.
Solomon Hill had perhaps the worst shooting night of his basketball career, going 2-16 and accumulating nearly as many turnovers as points. The forward looked completely out of sync offensively but managed to get the ball down low late in the game.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s shooting specialists – Nick Johnson, Jordin Mayes, and Kevin Parrom – went a combined 6-15 from the field. Against Clemson, their woes weren’t catastrophic but against a team like Florida, who the Cats play next Saturday, Arizona can’t afford for all three of them to be off mark.
It also didn’t help matters that the three freshman big men all had trouble scoring in the paint. Grant Jerrett couldn’t find a groove from mid-range while Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski both couldn’t finish consistently in the post.
With all that said, Arizona did generate encouragement in two crucial categories: rebounding and free throws. The Cats had over double as many offensive boards as Clemson, which provided them with many second chance scoring opportunities, and knocked down 17-20 free throws.
When the final buzzer blew, one couldn’t help but feel Arizona escaped the 10,000 seat arena with a win it probably wouldn’t have been able to pick up last season.
After literally everything seemed to be going Clemson’s way, Lyons was there to steer the ship back in the Cats’ direction. Instead of an embarrassing and demoralizing loss, Arizona will end up flying home to Tucson with an eye-pleasing double digit win.