K.J. McDaniels tied his career high with 30 points and had 14 rebounds to lead Clemson to its 10th straight home NIT win with a 78-66 victory over Georgia State on Tuesday night.
The Tigers (21-12) will play either Illinois or Boston U. in the second round, also at home. It was the 29th game McDaniels has hit for double figures, 13 of those with 20 or more. He matched his previous best set in a double-overtime loss at Notre Dame last month.
Georgia State (25-9) came in having won Sun Belt Conference regular-season crown and 22 of its past 24 games. But like other Clemson opponents, the Panthers couldn't ground the high-flying McDaniels.
Georgia State trailed 50-49 on Ryan Harrow's basket with 12:03 left. Then Clemson took off on a 22-10 run to take control.
R.J. Hunter led five Panthers in double figures with 15 points.
Damarcus Harrison had 17 points and Jordan Roper 11 for Clemson. McDaniels also had five of the Tigers' nine blocked shots.
The Panthers' high-scoring backcourt of Hunter and Ryan Harrow struggled against Clemson's defense. Hunter, the Sun Belt player of the year, was 4-of-16 shooting. Harrow, who had a career-high 37 last time out, was 5 of 16 from the field for 13 points.
Clemson and Georgia State had hoped to keep playing in the NCAA tournament instead of the NIT.
The Tigers chances ended when they squandered a five-point lead in the closing seconds of regulation before falling to Pittsburgh here in overtime on March 8. Clemson led Duke in the closing seconds of the ACC tournament quarterfinals a week later before again losing a tight one, 63-62.
The Panthers won the Sun Belt Conference regular season and had won 22 of 23 games entering the league's tournament finals against Louisiana-Lafayette. And despite Harrow's 37, Georgia State fell in overtime and the Rajun' Cajuns are in the field of 68.
For the Panthers, this was their second-ever NIT and first appearance since 2002 when they fell to Tennessee Tech. They had a difficult task in this one with Clemson on a nine-game home NIT win streak that included three victories here in 2007 — the Tigers last NIT — on the way to a tournament finals loss to West Virginia at Madison Square Garden.
Georgia State rallied from an early six-point deficit to lead 23-20 after Curtis Washington's inside bucket with 5:04 left in the half. That's when Clemson took off on a 15-6 run led by McDaniels. He made two foul shots to put the Tigers back in front, 24-23, then followed with a 3-pointer and a high-flying dunk.
Rod Hall drove the lane for leaning basket and Clemson was up 35-29.
Georgia State, which averaged seven 3s a game, got a lift right before halftime with Manny Atkins' long-range basket with 2.3 seconds remaining that cut Clemson's lead to 35-32.
Hunter, the Sun Belt player of the year who averaged 18.5 points a game this season, was just 1 of 6 for three points in the first 20 minutes.
McDaniels was 6-of-8 shooting for 17 points in the first half. He also had a team high five rebounds and two blocks.