Darryl Bryant scored 19 points and Kevin Jones added 17 as West Virginia (21-11) overcame a slow start in the early afternoon matchup. The Mountaineers will play fourth-seeded Kentucky in the next round.
Clemson coach Brad Brownlee refused to complain about the fast turnaround his team had to make after beginning tournament in Dayton, Ohio, but he raised the issue afterward about whether such an early starting time is fair to a team in those circumstances.
“I don’t know. We certainly were ready to go early,” Brownell said. “I mean, 12:15 is less than ideal. I certainly hope they address it for the student athletes’ sake, because there is a wearing effect on the game.”
Bryant’s four-point play and a long 3-pointer by Jones that tied it 40-40 at the half highlighted a game-changing 28-8 run that enabled West Virginia to turn a 10-point deficit into a 57-47 lead. The closest Clemson (22-12) would get the rest of the way was three.
Andre Young scored 22 points for Clemson, which beat Alabama-Birmingham in the opening round of the tournament in Dayton, then boarded a plane for a middle-of-the-night flight to Florida to face a team that hadn’t played in eight days.
Demontez Stitt had 16 points and Devin Bookere and Jerai Grant added 13 each for the Tigers, who fell behind by 12 in the second half before making it interesting in the closing minutes.
Clemson arrived at its hotel in Tampa around 5 a.m. and spent the rest of Wednesday balancing the the need for rest while also preparing for an opponent that had not played since losing in the second round of the Big East tournament last week.
Brownell estimated he got about three hours of sleep.
Joe Mazzulla scored 12 points for West Virginia, including two free throws that put the Mountaineers up 76-71 with 1:43 to go. Pepper’s steals on consecutive Clemson possessions thwarted any chance for a Tigers comeback.