CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Devin Booker had a career-high 22 points, freshman T.J. Sapp had four 3-pointers and Clemson overcame a nine-point deficit in the second half to defeat East Tennessee State 65-58 on Sunday.
The Tigers (8-6) had lost two of three games at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii last week and entered this one seeking a confidence builder before they start Atlantic Coast Conference play against Florida State next Saturday. East Tennessee State (5-7) gave Clemson all it could handle, leading 41-32 with 16 minutes to go.
The Tigers used a 12-2 run to get back into it, and Sapp’s final 3-pointer put them in front 49-47. Booker followed with a breakaway jam that got the sparse holiday crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum on its feet.
Adam Sollazzo had a career-high 27 points for ETSU.
Booker, the brother of Washington Wizards forward Trevor Booker, surpassed the previous career best of 16 points he had reached four times, most recently on Dec. 23 in an 83-75 win over Southern Illinois. He also had seven rebounds and four blocks.
Sapp finished with 13 points and Andre Young 12. The 5-foot-9 Young had eight rebounds to go with seven assists.
Sollazzo topped his old high of 23 points, set last month against Appalachian State. Tommy Hubbard added 19 points for the ETSU.
The Buccaneers looked like they might finally get a signature win this season against a major-conference opponent. They opened the second half with a 9-4 run and led 41-32 with 16:01 left on Hubbard’s wide-open jump shot.
But the Tigers, sluggish most of the game to that point, found their fire and took off on a 12-2 run that gave them a 44-43 lead.
The Bucs weren’t done, however, and led 47-46 with 7:41 to on Sheldon Cooley’s bucket. That’s when Clemson moved in front for good on Sapp’s final 3-pointer, a block by Milton Jennings on Sollazzo and a breakaway jam by Booker.
The Bucs, who start three seniors, stood toe-to-toe with the bigger Tigers throughout the opening half.
Sollazzo, a 6-6 swingman who runs the point, gave Clemson fits with his offense and defense. When Sollazzo wasn’t scoring (he had half of ETSU’s 32 first-half points), he drew the Tigers’ attention and passed off to Hubbard.
The Tigers didn’t help themselves, either, missing eight straight shots during a seven-minute stretch of the opening period. When Clemson tried to take advantage of its size and strength, it misfired on several pass attempts to 6-8 Devin Booker and 7-2 Catalin Baciu.
The Bucs forced Clemson into long shots it could not make as the half wore on. The Tigers made 5 of their first 8 field goals in the first six minutes, but only 5 of 19 the rest of the half.
ETSU also controlled the boards, outrebounding the Tigers 18-14 by the break.
The Bucs have had their chances to make a few headlines this season. They were within four points of ACC opponent Virginia Tech in their season opener Nov. 12 before falling 64-53. In their last game, at Tennessee on Dec. 23, they led 59-51 with five minutes to go before the Vols used a 15-4 run to escape embarrassment with a 66-63 victory.