Former Laney standout Rod Hall scored 14 points and had six assists to lead the Tigers (19-10, 10-7 ACC) to a 58-54 win over Miami on Tuesday night. Clemson, picked to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC, can clinch the fifth seed in the conference tournament with a win Saturday over Pittsburgh.
"A lot of people doubted us, but we've proven them wrong. We're not the 14th team," Hall said.
With the game tied at 29 early in the second half, Clemson would score on its next four possessions to take the lead for good. Damarcus Harrison hit a 3-pointer, Adonis Filer and K.J. McDaniels followed with short jumpers and Filer buried a 3 to put the Tigers ahead 39-32 with just under 14 minutes left.
Clemson, the second-best free throw shooting team in the league, missed back-to-back 1-in-1s in the final minute. But Landry Nnoko blocked a shot that could have pulled the Hurricanes within two and Jaron Blossomgame pulled down an offensive rebound on Damarcus Harrison's miss to let the Tigers hold on.
"It's not like they killed us on the boards, but the critical ones, the missed free throw at the end when we are down four, we've got to get that rebound and we did not get it," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said.
Five of Clemson's 10 ACC wins have been by four points or less.
"We always know our games are going to come down to a four- or five-point game — two or three possessions," Hall said.
Rion Brown led Miami (15-15, 6-11) with 21 points. Erik Swoope scored 14 points, while Garrius Adams added eight points and five rebounds.
The last time these teams played, in March 2013, the Hurricanes won and clinched the ACC regular season title. But Miami lost its top six scorers off that team and now will likely need a win Saturday over Wake Forest to avoid playing on the ACC Tournament's opening day — a task that would mean five wins for a repeat tournament title.
The thing that is hurting the Hurricanes - a lack of experience - is the same reason Clemson is exceeding expectations, Larranaga said.
"When guys get older and more experienced, the things you're asking them to do day in and day out they normally do it a little bit better. They are a little stronger, they're a little smarter, they make better decisions," Larranaga said of Clemson.
McDaniels scored 12 points and had nine rebounds, while Harrison also scored 12 for the Tigers.
A win Saturday will also make history for Clemson, as the Tigers would win 11 ACC games for the first time in their 61 years in the league. Clemson coach Brad Brownell said he would be proud, but doesn't want to make too much of that accomplishment in the new 18-game league season.
"It helps to have a couple of extra games. Let's not pat ourselves on the back when they used to play 14 or 16," Brownell said.
Miami shot 50 percent from the field (25 of 50), becoming just the fourth team to hit at least half their shots against the second-best defense in the country. It was the first time the Tigers have won one of those games.
Clemson still seems a long shot for an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers don't have a quality non-conference win, and their only victory over a team likely to be in the tournament is a 72-59 home win over Duke. A victory over Pittsburgh and a run to the ACC tournament semifinals or finals would go far to help Clemson's chances.
But Brownell remembers Clemson was in a similar spot last week and suffered what was nearly a bubble-bursting loss to Wake Forest.
''We know that we have to just keep winning games," Brownell said. "Our backs are against the wall. They've been this whole week. We're trying to play with a great sense of urgency and a great passion."