CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — With his star player out indefinitely with a sprained knee and losses in three of its last four, without playing what he thought was a bad game, Clemson coach Brad Brownell felt his team needed a win Saturday to keep this season from spiraling down quickly.
Sheldon Mitchell scored 20 points and Elijah Thomas had 15 points and nine rebounds to lead the Tigers (7-3) to a 74-66 win over Radford (6-4).
If Brownell believed in omens, he got one on the opening possession when Clemson's first shot of the game wedged between the rim and the backboard. "We were nervous. You could tell," Brownell said.
But a week of hard practices after last Saturday's dispiriting 82-71 loss to Mississippi State paid off.
Mitchell's short jumper with 4:41 to go put Clemson up for good, 60-58. The Highlanders turned the ball over twice and had offensive fouls on two more possessions to end up behind 64-58.
Ed Polite Jr. and Carlik Jones hit back-to-back 3-pointers on Radford's next two possessions, but the Tigers scored on their final eight trips down the court to keep the Highlanders at bay.
"We played hard enough and well enough to win the game," Radford coach Mike Jones said. "There were just a couple of things that didn't work out."
Radford has already beaten Notre Dame and Texas on the road this season.
"We beat a good team who was really ready to play," Brownell said.
Clemson played its second game without Marcquise Reed and his team-leading 19 points a game. Brownell isn't sure when Reed will be back.
The Tigers made the Sweet Sixteen last season, and playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference will allow them to erase a bad loss or two in nonconference. But Brownell is worried mostly about his team's confidence.
"I'm just happy our guys got rewarded this week," Brownell said. "You just want to see good things happen to guys who are working hard."
Jones scored 18 points and Polite had 16 points and 10 rebounds for Radford.
Dave Skara scored 16 points for Clemson.
Radford's biggest lead of the game — seven points — came crashing down in just over a minute thanks in large part to a foul and the ejection of Devonnte Holland.
After reviewing the play on the monitor, the officials called a flagrant foul on Holland for language and kicked him out. Jones said the officials told him Holland used the N-word, which is an automatic ejection this season in college basketball.
"I didn't hear what was said," Jones said, adding he wasn't told what the officials saw on the monitor. "I don't know what else was said. But I know in today's America and with the people involved that was harsh."
Holland is black, as were the players around him and his coach.
Mitchell made 3 of his 4 free throws, then Aamir Simms hit a 3-pointer and Clemson's six-point possession turned a five-point deficit into a 41-40 lead with 14 minutes to go.
MOVING ON UP
Brownell, in his 10th season with the Tigers, tied Bill Foster for second place on Clemson's all-time victory list Saturday with 156 wins. Cliff Ellis is on top with 178 wins.
Radford: The Highlanders hurt themselves with 18 turnovers and losing the rebounding battle 36-24. They again played a major conference team hard and are the overwhelming favorite to win the Big South Conference for a second year and return to the NCAA Tournament.
Clemson: The Tigers need Reed back, lacking an outside presence on both ends. Radford shot 56.3 percent (9 of 16) on 3-pointers. Clemson came into the game ranked 329th in the country on 3-point defense, allowing teams to make 39.1 percent of their shots behind the arc.
Radford: The Highlanders are at UNC-Greensboro on Tuesday.
Clemson: The Tigers host Charleston Southern on Tuesday.