Jerai Grant's career night leads Clemson to 2nd round match vs. West Virginia

DAYTON, Ohio -- As pleased as he was that his Clemson team had won an NCAA tournament game for the first time in 14 years, coach Brad Brownell was already concerned about what comes next.

Jerai Grant scored a career-best 22 points and the fast-starting Tigers built a double-figure lead and never backed off in beating Alabama-Birmingham 70-52 on Tuesday night in an NCAA tournament "First Four" game at the University of Dayton Arena.

There was little time to celebrate. The Tigers hurried to catch a flight to their second-round game against fifth-seeded West Virginia (20-11) on Thursday afternoon in Tampa, Fla.

In other words, their next game is 36 hours after they walked off the court with such wide smiles.

"It certainly is a difficult turnaround to face a good West Virginia team that's rested and motivated," Brownell said.

Grant, who hit 10 of 15 shots from the field and also grabbed seven rebounds, said the most important thing was to sleep -- and then get prepared.

"Rest is going to be a big factor," he said. "We have to prepare, watch video of them and go through their sets and we should be fine."

Demontez Stitt, Clemson's leading scorer at 14.7 points a game, said it was important for the Tigers to relax and let their bodies have a break.

"We've got a plane straight to Tampa now," he said. "Plane flights can be kind of draining."

In a matchup of No. 12 seeds, part of the expanded tournament's new look, the Tigers (22-11) went on a 21-2 run in the first half and never let the big lead slip away, as they had in Saturday's overtime loss to North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference semifinals.

Milton Jennings added 11 points and Tanner Smith and Devin Booker each had 10 for Clemson, picked to finish seventh in the ACC. The win was its first in the NCAA tournament since the 1997 team advanced to the round of 16.

"Our energy was great early," Brownell said. "We swarmed them a little bit and knocked some balls loose and got out in transition and got a nice lead."

Ahead 39-27 at the break, Clemson never let the Blazers draw closer than eight points in the second half.

UAB's hopes wilted when, already trailing 61-42, it lost point guard Aaron Johnson.

Johnson, leading the nation in assists at 7.7 per game, was injured while trying to prevent an easy layup by Grant. After lying on the floor for several minutes, he left the court on crutches with what coach Mike Davis called a broken leg. Johnson received a round of applause from the crowd of 10,025.

Jamarr Sanders had 19 points and Dexter Fields 12 for UAB, regular-season champions of Conference USA.

"Clemson is a real good team," Davis said. "They came out and fought hard. And every time we would make a run, they did what a good team is supposed to do -- they withstood our run and made a run of their own."

Both teams were among the final four at-large teams to get into the tournament. Each had spells when they didn't look as though they deserved berths -- but UAB's bad spell lasted a lot longer.

As if to take a slap at doubters who didn't think they belonged in the field, the Tigers came out smoking.

Grant, who had opened the scoring, rebounded his own miss and hit the follow with 6:34 left to swell the Clemson lead to 31-11.

Meanwhile, the Blazers continually turned over the ball and when they did get off a shot, they missed the mark. They didn't have a field goal for almost 8½ minutes of the opening half and had more turnovers (eight) than points (seven) in the opening 10:30.

But UAB regrouped behind its 3-point shooters. Hitting 7 of 15 behind the arc for the half, it got back in the game. Fields hit two 3s and Johnson added one in a 16-4 run to cut the lead to 35-27. But the Blazers never got any closer.

The victory was particularly gratifying for Brownell, who had been the coach at Wright State -- across town from the University of Dayton -- for four years before taking the Clemson job a year ago.

He had always wanted to play an annual game with Dayton, but could never close the deal. As a result, winning a game on the Flyers' home floor was always one of his fondest wishes while he was at Wright State.

"The best part about it was I had a lot of friends and family here," he said. "So to do it in front of all those people makes it extra special."


  • Remembering Len Bias

    On June 19, 1986, former first-team All-American forward Len Bias died at the age of 22. Take a look back at what made him one of the best basketball stars during his playing days at Maryland.

  • Ben Simmons' letter to his father

    On Father's Day, NBA draft prospect Ben Simmons pens a letter to his father thanking him for all that he has done for him.

  • Chad Ford's best under-the-radar draft prospect

    ESPN NBA draft insider Chad Ford breaks down which prospect would be a great value pick that is not getting enough attention.