Clemson topples No. 22 Florida
SUNRISE, Fla. — For reasons related to his career and also his team, Saturday was memorable for Marcquise Reed, the Clemson Tigers’ junior guard.
Reed scored 22 points and reached a milestone on Saturday, leading Clemson to a 71-69 upset win over the 22nd-ranked Florida Gators in the annual Orange Bowl Classic at the BB&T Center.
Clemson (9-1), which was predicted to finish 11th in the ACC, is off to its best 10-game start since 2008-2009. And if everything works out for the Tigers, this victory will have added significance in March when NCAA Tournament bids are awarded.
“It’s a huge win,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “Florida’s going to have a great year.”
That remains to be seen. But Reed, who reached 1,000 career-points in the second half, said this will give the Tigers confidence going forward.
“It’s a steppingstone,” Reed said. “We never got down on ourselves when we were behind. We played with composure for 40 minutes.”
Florida (6-4), which has lost four of its past five games, led by 12 points with 17:24 left in the second half. But Clemson rallied, scoring the game-winning basket on a dunk by Elijah Thomas with 37 seconds left.
Reed provided the full-court pass that freed up Thomas, who got behind the Gators defense.
“We were kind of scrambling,” said Gators shooting guard Jalen Hudson, who scored a game-high 23 points. “We were desperate at that point to get the ball. We didn’t sprint back. We were all slow.
“(Thomas) leaked out before anyone had secured the rebound, which was kind of a risky play for him. But it ended up going in his favor.”
Besides Hudson, guards Chris Chiozza (14 points) and KeVaughan Allen (12) also contributed double-figure scoring for Florida.
But a miss by Allen with just nine seconds left proved costly to the Gators. Clemson was leading 69-68 when Chiozza penetrated and kicked it out to Allen on the right elbow.
“I was open,” Allen said. “Chris did a good job of finding me. I felt confident shooting — it felt good.”
Unfortunately for the Gators, Allen missed, and Thomas grabbed the rebound before quickly passing the ball to Reed. The Gators fouled Reed, but Thomas was sent to the line.
After Thomas made his first free throw, the officials corrected their mistake. They took that one point off the board, sending Reed to line. Reed made both free throws to virtually seal the victory.
“Not a lot,” Gators coach Mike White said when asked what he thought about the confusion. “Heck, the first guy (Thomas) made his free throw, although he was traded out for a better shooter. It’s all part of the game. ... We shouldn’t have fouled.”
White, who has been concerned with his defense of late, didn’t feel any better after this loss, and he said the lapse in coverage on Thomas’ dunk was particularly glaring.
“We didn’t do our jobs,” White said. “We didn’t show the discipline we needed to show there. Someone didn’t get back.”
NOTES: The game, played at the home of the NHL’s Florida Panthers, was delayed more than once due to moisture on the court as well as a lighting problem. ... Clemson and Florida faced each other for the first time in 50 years. ... Florida was without two players: starting C John Egbunu and freshman F Isaiah Stokes. Both have knee injuries, and both are expected to miss at least one more month. ... Clemson plays host to rival South Carolina on Tuesday. While Clemson has missed the NCAA Tournament six straight years, South Carolina reached the 2017 Final Four. ... Florida plays James Madison on Wednesday and Incarnate Word on Friday before opening SEC play on Dec. 30 against visiting Vanderbilt.