Monday, December 8, 2014

Rod Hall leads Clemson to Overtime win over #18 Arkansas

Clemson's won-loss results have been downright inconsistent these first eight games.  Although the Tigers got a quality neutral court win against LSU, losses to Gardner Webb, Winthrop, and Rutgers (the latter mentioned two at home) have been disappointing.  Judging from coach Brad Brownell and players' comments after the loss to Rutgers last Monday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, a lack of toughness, effort and leadership were the culprits.

I'll never be one to doubt the leadership of senior point guard, team leader, Augusta native, and good friend Rod Hall.  Playing Sunday with a slight limp due to the lingering effects of an ankle sprain suffered ten days ago during the first possession of a win against High Point, Rod played an impeccable floor game Sunday to lead the Tigers to a come-from-behind, overtime home win over the nation's 18th ranked Arkansas Razorbacks.

Game Analysis

The game was certainly Clemson's best performance of the season.  Hall's too.  Clemson got off to a fast start in which 6'7" freshman forward Donte Grantham, 6’7” sophomore forward Jaron Blossomgame, and 6'11" center Landry Nnoko carried the scoring load.  Rod and fellow senior Demarcus Harrison did a great job helping to establish Nnoko as a low post scoring threat, feeding him with on time and on target passes so he could do what he does best, turn over either shoulder and finish jump hooks in close.

Grantham, who seems to have a bright future as a Tiger, was the recipient of good looks at the basket early as a result of the crowd Nnoko drew in the post.  He did a great job taking advantage of the situation, scoring from deep, driving to the rim, crashing the offensive boards, and finishing in the open court.  While playing the role of facilitator the entire first half, Hall's only clean look at the basket came on a nice feed by Nnoko on a post double.  The big center spotted Rod on the opposite wing and he buried his first three point attempt to give Clemson a 29-20 advantage.

The Razorbacks then had success slowing down Clemson's inside attack with full court pressure.  Rod's job got much more difficult from that point forward.  Clemson has a long and athletic frontline, and senior shooting guard Demarcus Harrison can stroke it from deep.  But only Rod, and possibly the freshman Grantham, looked comfortable against Arkansas' pressure.  He handled it well.  But by extending Clemson's offense and forcing them to use so much time and energy protecting against turnovers, Arkansas effectively took Nnoko out of the game for a while.

After Clemson's lead vanished in the second half, Hall went from simply handling the full court pressure to exploiting it by splitting double teams, getting into the paint, finding teammates for easy looks, and eventually going on a scoring tear himself.  He drove and scored at the rim midway through the second half. Then he made an especially gutty play, splitting the double team and dropping in a giant killing floater over a taller Arkansas defender to cut the Razorback lead to 3 with 8:09 left to play.  Rod was not the only Tiger making plays.  Senior Demarcus Harrison made a timely three to keep the Tigers within 4 with 5:32 remaining.  And Jaron Blossingame followed that with a thunderous dunk after driving through the teeth of the Razorbacks' defense to pull within 2 at the 4:31 mark.

After scoring only one point (a Hall free throw) the next 3:35, Clemson trailed 57-51 after a Bobby Portis runner with less than a minute remaining.  The next 90 seconds, including the first possession of an eventual overtime period, belonged to Rod Hall.  The senior from Augusta way into the paint, willing in a short jumper in the paint and soon after stole a pass and scored over a Razorback defender at the rim, cutting the Arkansas lead to 2.  The Tigers would then force a steal with less than 15 seconds remaining, and Blossomgame converted a layup after a feed from Harrison in transition to send the game into overtime.

Hall established the tone for overtime during the extra period's first possession.  He dribbled out most of the the shot clock before drilling a rhythm dribble three in the face of an Arkansas defender before draining all four of his free throw attempts to eventually ice the Clemson victory. Rod was the leading scorer and he posted an insanely efficient stat line:  19 points on 6-9 shooting, including 2-3 from deep and 5-6 from the free throw line!

Eventually coming full circle back to what worked so well in the game's opening minutes, the Tigers took their biggest lead since the first half after Nnoko patiently worked in the post, drew multiple defenders, and found Blossomgame for a two handed dunk that put Clemson ahead for good 66-60.

Sure enough, weighing Clemson's losses to Winthrop, Gardner-Webb and Rutgers with its wins against LSU and Arkansas paints a picture of early season inconsistency.  And coach Brownell is right in holding senior leaders Hall and Harrison accountable.  I believe effort and mental and physical toughness are not the culprits.  In Clemson's methodical system of limiting possessions and staying in games with defense, it has taken time to establish ways to score points.  Nnoko has been a steady source of productivity.  Although Hall's season statistics have been superb (12 ppg* on 53% FG and 62% 3pt FG), I had not seen him consistently take responsibility for the team's offensive opportunities before Sunday.

The Tigers have been one of the country's best defensive teams for a while now.  If they continue to find consistent sources of offense, our guy Rod may be able to reach his first NCAA tournament in March.  And if that comes to be, it will be largely because of his contributions.  And that is very exciting!

A hole may have been dug with early season losses.  But Sunday's win against a nationally ranked opponent can be the first step in figuring out how to be a legitimate competitor in the country's best league, the ACC. For the time being, the Tigers will try to continue its roll against SEC teams this Sunday in a home game against Auburn and next Friday on the road at South Carolina.

*The 12 ppg reference removes the 0 point outing recorded in the High Point game.  Rod only played one possession that game after spraining his ankle.  Clemson’s official stats show him averaging over 10 ppg because that game is factored into the official scoring totals.

***Here are some posts from the pasts about Rod Hall and his Clemson Tigers***

Nov 17, 2014

Nov 10, 2014

March 31, 2014
from the Augusta Chronicle

Nov 25, 2013

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