CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Yale coach James Jones didn't think his team would crumble this year simply because it lost four starters off last season's NCAA Tournament squad.
The Bulldogs showed that at Clemson on Sunday with a 54-45 victory.
Paul Atkinson had 20 points as Yale won its seventh straight game by upending an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent for a second consecutive season.
A year ago, Yale went 22-8, won the Ivy League tournament and made its second NCAA Tournament appearance in four seasons. There were plenty of questions this season — the Bulldogs were picked third in the preseason Ivy League poll — about whether they could sustain their success.
“We have a Yale program and that's what happens," Jones said. “When guys graduate, other guys step up and it's their turn.”
Jordan Bruner added 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds for the Bulldogs (10-3), who had come close against its previous two Power Five opponents this season, losing to Oklahoma State and Penn State by a combined nine points.
This time, Yale rallied back after losing an eight-point second half lead to beat an ACC team for the first time since topping Miami 77-73 last December.
Trailing 38-36, Atkinson hit a pair of foul shots to tie things and put Yale ahead for good, 40-38, with a layup moments later.
Another bucket by Atkinson stretched the lead to 46-40 and Clemson could not respond.
“Frustrated is the word for this loss," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.
The Tigers (6-6) have lost five of six and finished with their lowest point total of the year.
Yale pulled it out despite 19 turnovers after averaging just 14 a game coming in. But the Bulldogs' patience in moving the ball around the perimeter for the best opportunity paid off in a big way.
Jones was particularly proud of his team's defensive effort. He came in wondering if his team could keep up with Clemson, which came in averaging almost 69 points a game this season.
“That was probably the best defensive effort we've had all season," he said. “And we needed it because we were not very good offensively. We turned the ball over 19 times. We outrebounded them and we really played good team defense, which was the defense for us."
That showed as Yale took over late in the opening half with a closing 8-0 run to lead 24-19 at the break against the ice-cold shooting Tigers.
Atkinson and Bruner both hit 3-pointers and Eze Dike ended the period with a jumper to send the Bulldogs into the locker room in front.
Clemson struggled to make shots, finishing at 33.3% (9 of 27) from the field including a dreadful 0-of-9 from behind the arc.
Things didn't get much better in the second half with Clemson making only six field goals in the final 20 minutes.
Hunter Tyson had 11 points to lead the Tigers while the season's leading scorer, Aamir Simms, had 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
THE BIG PICTURE
Yale: The Bulldogs have lived on the edge much of the season, winning four games in overtime and holding strong in tight defeats to Oklahoma State (64-57) and Penn State (58-56) last month. This time, Yale was the more complete team and showed why it will be a strong contender to win the Ivy League title and make its third NCAA Tournament appearance in five seasons.
Clemson: The Tigers need to find a consistent steady scorer, something they lost with its trio of high-scoring seniors from a year ago in Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas. Until that develops, Clemson will surely struggle against ACC teams.
Yale came close in Power Five games with Oklahoma State and Penn State earlier this year. Jones believes those near misses helped his guys hold on at Clemson.
“This is why you play games like this so you give your guys experiences so when we get in our league and play conference play there shouldn't be anything to be nervous about," Jones said.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell will spend a lot of his time watching film of his team's loss to Yale. Brownell thought his team's shot selection was better than the result proved out. “We're having trouble scoring,” he said. “It's something we've got to figure out."
Yale continues its ACC run with a game at North Carolina on Dec. 30.
Clemson continues a five-game home stand and jumps back into ACC play when it hosts Miami on Dec. 31.
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