Baylor's rally falls short as Clemson heads to Sweet 16

Joseph Girard III and Clemson held off a Baylor rally to advance to the Sweet 16. (Justin Ford/Getty Images)

Clemson outplayed and outmatched Baylor for the bulk of Sunday’s second-round NCAA tournament game.

It then fended off a furious Bears rally from a 15-point second-half deficit to secure a 72-64 win in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Baylor cut a 61-46 deficit to 66-64 in the game’s final minute. But it never never took the lead as Clemson held on to secure a trip to the Sweet 16 and a matchup with No. 2 seed Arizona.

The Bears had a chance to tie the game with 36.2 seconds remaining while trailing by two. But Ja’Kobe Walter missed two free throws, and the Bears didn’t score again.

Clemson dominates early

Clemson led the game wire to wire. It attacked and flustered Baylor’s zone defense early en route to a 22-14 lead midway through the first half. It then withstood foul trouble that threatened its early lead.

All-ACC center PJ Hall went to the bench with 6:19 remaining in the first half after picking up his second foul. Clemson led, 25-20. Starting forward Ian Schieffelin joined him on the bench with his second foul two minutes later. But Clemson didn’t wilt.

The Tigers extended their lead to 35-25 at halftime with both frontcourt starters on the bench. Chase Hunter capped the strong half with a transition 3-pointer that beat the first-half buzzer.

Clemson confident after strong first half

On Friday, Baylor scored 54 first-half points in a 92-67 win over Colgate. An offense that ranks fifth in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency was limited to less that half that total in the first half against Clemson. It produced eight made field goals and seven turnovers.

CBS asked Clemson head coach Brad Browning if Clemson could have played a better first half.

“No probably not,” Browning said. “Especially with PJ and Ian being in foul trouble the last couple of minutes there.

It was more of the same early in the second half. Clemson continued to attack from inside and out while hobbling Baylor’s offense. It did so as Hall continued to find foul trouble. He went to the bench with his third foul at the 17:26 mark. When he returned with 10:06 remaining, Clemson maintained a 52-43 lead. And he made the Bears pay.

A Hall dunk in a halfcourt set extended Clemson’s lead to 59-46.

Bears mount rally

But Baylor wasn’t done. The Bears mounted a 9-0 run that cut their 15-point deficit to 61-55. After struggling from the field for most of the game, Baylor hit five straight field goal attempts to chip away at the Clemson lead.

On defense, Baylor leaned on pressure down the stretch, forcing Clemson into four turnovers in the final 5:10, three of them in the final 1:23. But ultimately, the 15-point hole proved too deep. Baylor ran out of time on its comeback and fell short of the Sweet 16 for a third-straight season since winning the national championship in 2021.

Hunter led the Clemson effort with 20 points and six assists as one of four starters to score in double figures. Hall was limited to 11 points and three rebounds while playing just 19 minutes. He was in foul trouble throughout and fouled out with 36.2 seconds left in the game.

Senior guard RayJ Dennis led Baylor with 27 points, six rebounds and three steals. Walter, a freshman, added 20 points and six rebounds. But a 5-of-11 day at the free-throw line including the two misses in the last minute looms large. As a team, Baylor shot 16 of 26 (61.5%) at the stripe, exacerbating its struggles from the field (38.9%).

Clemson, meanwhile, shot 48.9% from the field and hit 20 of 24 (83.3%) free throws. It joins North Carolina, Duke and NC State as the fourth ACC team in the Sweet 16.

The Tigers advance to a tough matchup against Arizona. But as they proved on Sunday, they’re capable of competing with the nation’s best teams. Clemson beat No. 4 seed Alabama and No. 1 seed North Carolina on the road during the regular season.

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