Dec. 8, 2012
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) - Arizona coach Sean Miller knew all about Mark Lyons' offense, speed and ball-handling skills.
What Miller was really glad to see at Clemson on Saturday night was Lyons' toughness and determination.
Lyons had a season-high 20 points and helped the eighth-ranked Wildcats rally in the second half and defeat the Tigers 66-54.
Arizona had already squandered a 14-point lead in the opening half and was trailing 42-36 - and facing a loud crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum - when Lyons and his teammates dug in.
The result? A back-breaking 25-7 run over the next 10 minutes that gave Arizona, at 7-0, its best start in 14 years.
"He has a confidence in our huddle and a toughness about him when going against confident players because he's been in so many big games," Miller said. "He's contagious. And I thought one of the reasons we continued to stay with it and fight in the second half was his disposition."
It was Lyons' highest point total in his first season at Arizona. He spent three years at Xavier, averaging in double figures his sophomore and junior seasons and helping the team to three NCAA tournament appearances.
Lyons, eligible to play immediately as a graduate transfer, has thrown himself into his new surroundings.
"It's an easy transition for me because of the guys I'm playing with," he said. "My coach is a great point guard back in his day and he's just making me better every day."
That was apparent at Clemson, espcially in the second half.
The Wildcats were staggering after they watched a 22-8 lead disappear and were down by six after Rod Hall's 3-pointer with a second left on the shot clock. Lyons steadied the team and got back to work.
Clemson took its last lead moments later at 47-44 on Milton Jennings' 3-pointer with 8:38 to go.
When Lyons went in for a layup with 2:19 remaining, the Wildcats were ahead 61-49.
"This will help our morale," Lyons said. "When we go on the road, we'll be ready. And if we're ever in a close game, we know what it takes to overcome it."
Clemson (5-3) scored just two field goals in the final 8:45. Jennings led the Tigers with 15 points in his return from a two-game suspension because of a drug arrest.
Nick Johnson had 13 points and Hill had seven points and 10 rebounds for Arizona. But it was Lyons' steady control that bailed the Wildcats out down the stretch.
Lyons led the team with four assists and hit all five of his foul shots to keep the Wildcats out front.
Miller had a few words for those people who thought Lyons' start to the season wasn't crisp enough, with too many turnovers and not enough assists.
"Look, if you leave your job and you're in a different area of the country, I bet you're not going to feel good the first month," Miller said. "It takes time, especially playing that role in point guard."
K.J. McDaniels scored 13 points and Adonis Filer had 10 for the Tigers.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell was encouraged with his team's fight.
"When we play good basketball, we can play with a lot of teams," he said.
Arizona was off to its fastest start since the 1999-2000 team was 6-0 and eventually shared the Pac-10 Conference championship.
The Wildcats, though, had to rally from 11 points down - Arizona committed 27 turnovers in that one - in their last game before holding on to beat Southern Mississippi 63-55 on Tuesday night.
Arizona came out ready in its first trip to Littlejohn Coliseum, Lyons scored five points and Johnson hit a 3-pointer to lead 15-4.
The Wildcats built the lead to 22-8 when Hill stole the ball from Jennings and passed ahead to Lyons for a wide-open dunk.
Brownell called a time out.
Clemson's players responded in the final nine minutes of the half with a 16-6 run.
Jennings got the charge going with a 3-pointer, freshman guard Adonis Filer had a driving layup and two foul shots and McDaniels a high-flying putback that drew the Tigers within 26-24.
Brandon Ashley hit a pair of foul shots with 8 seconds left to send the Wildcats into the locker room ahead 28-24. Their shooting was cold down the stretch, going 0 for 4 from the floor.
Arizona did a much better job with ball protection, committing just six turnovers in the first 20 minutes against the Tigers.