No. 16 Clemson hosts struggling Pitt

Few outside the Palmetto State could have envisioned this.

Clemson (19-4, 8-3 ACC), which hosts Pittsburgh on Thursday in Clemson, S.C., is ranked 16th in the country and sits alone in second place in the ACC.

Even the loss of one of their best players hasn’t slowed the Tigers.

After senior forward Donte Grantham suffered a season-ending knee injury, the Tigers were routed by Virginia. But they promptly bounced back with three straight wins.

“With Donte going down, we had to figure some things out,” senior guard Gabe DeVoe told the Greenville (S.C.) News. “The last few games we’ve got it rolling. The guards have been stepping up.”

In the four games since Grantham, who was second in scoring (14.2 points per game) and rebounding (6.9 per game), went down, the Clemson guards have stepped up, shooting 45.5 percent from 3-point range and combining for 44.8 points per game.

“It’s just more opportunities for me now, just being able to shoot the ball a little more with him being down,” said DeVoe, who is leading the trio, averaging 19.3 points over the past four games. “In the past I’ve played more of a supporting role. I’m in a position now where the team needs me to do more.”

DeVoe has made 60 percent of his 3-pointers and is perfect from the free-throw line during the stretch.

“I think Gabe has found himself in a very good rhythm, game flow the last couple of games, we’ve had some open 3s and guys have been able to knock them down and that has been a huge part of what we’ve able to do,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell told the paper.

DeVoe led the Tigers with 24 points, making 8 of 11 shots, in Saturday’s 75-67 win over Wake Forest.

Panthers coach Kevin Stallings has taken notice.

“We had two tough games last week in the midst of three straight road games, and the way Clemson’s playing is not going to make it any easier for us,” Pittsburgh coach Kevin Stallings said. “I’m really impressed with what Brad has done and they’re obviously having a great year.

“It looks like their players are very bought in to what he’s asking them to do, both offensively and defensively. They obviously shoot the ball tremendously from the perimeter, they’ve done a great job of getting to the foul line and converting. They’re finding a way to win the tough, close games, and it’s impressive to watch.”

Pittsburgh (8-16, 0-11) comes into Thursday’s game on an 11-game losing streak.

Still, Brownell isn’t taking the Panthers lightly.

“We have more experienced players, but I do think their team is improving. I think they play pretty doggone hard, and they’re physical, strong bodies,” Brownell told the (Columbia, S.C.) State. “I think our interior guys need to play well. We’ve got to continue to push to get consistency and even more productivity out of Elijah (Thomas) and Mark (Donnal) and Aamir (Simms) and Malik (William) and those guys.”

The Panthers were blown out by North Carolina, 96-65, on Saturday four days after the Tar Heels fell at Clemson, 82-78.

Pitt, which has five freshmen on the roster, has now lost five games — four in conference play — by 25 or more points.

“Any time you have that many new players, it can be difficult,” former Panthers and current Tar Heels forward Cameron Johnson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I expected them to come in and play hard and play with nothing to lose. I thought they did that to an extent. As you go on, and this isn’t a knock on them in any way, you learn things. I’m a different player than I was a couple of years ago, too. They’ve got a lot to learn and they’ll learn it. Going forward, they’ve got some players there that can do some things.”

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