After beating Davidson on Friday night, all that was talked about was how athletic this match up was going to be, and to be perfectly honest, I took the athleticism of the Minutemen for granted. I quickly came to realize how foolish a mistake that was when on the first three transition possessions; point guard Chaz Williams had me staring at my television screen mumbling "What the heck was that?" Clemson struggled in transition defense for much of the first half, while they did pick up the ball well; they struggled to mark the trailer which lead to frequent open shots.
The teams traded jabs in the first 5 minutes with Rod Hall hitting a couple of mid-range jumpers and a Jaron Blossomgame three pointer before UMass went on an 11-0 run capped with a Trey Davis 3 pointer to put UMass ahead 18-10.
Clemson would get close several times, but the theme of the night seemed to be that whenever Clemson would punch, UMass would throw a counter punch. After a Blossomgame layup with 5:17 in the half cut the lead to 23-21, Cady Lalanne was fed the ball down low and went up hard to score the bucket and the foul to regain momentum for the Minutemen. Lalanne went on to score the next seven points for UMass to balloon the lead back to 11.
Clemson's defense seemed to settle down in the second half holding the Minutemen to 20 points in a 14 minute span; the problem was that offensively, the shots were not falling. A night after shooting 61.1% in a win against Davidson, the Tigers shot 35.6% and struggled from the floor all night.
When none of the shots seemed to be going down, I saw a problem develop that I have seen over the past three years with this basketball program. Nobody seemed to want the ball. Possessions became Rod Hall or Adonis Filer dribbling at the top of the key for 20 seconds or so, before making a pass where the recipient immediately looked to give the ball up and someone was forced into taking a low percentage shot while the shot clock was winding down.
You saw some line-up changes by Brad Brownell to counteract the poor shooting, inserting freshman reserve Austin Ajukwa into the game with Rod Hall, Sidy Djitte and Ibrahim Djambo on the floor at the same time for the first time of the night. Ajukwa was, as always, aggressive, but looking to do too much, as the Tigers deficit remained at 10 for much of the second half.
With hope seeming to dwindle and shooter Jordan Roper out with an apparent head injury, insert spark-plug here. Redshirt sophomore Devin Coleman came into the game and inserted new life into the Tigers, scoring all 8 points in an 8-2 run including two three pointers to cut the lead to four. Coleman had not seen the floor in a long time, supposedly because of his defense, but his want for the ball and willingness to pull the trigger were just what the Tigers needed. Just like that, Clemson was back in it.
Unfortunately, much like the rest of the game, the Minutemen had an answer. After a Rod Hall layup made the score 59-56 with 57 seconds remaining, a stellar defensive possession forced point guard Chaz Williams to throw up a wild shot which didn't fall, but the offensive rebound was collected by Raphiael Putney, who promptly put the rebound back to ice the game and finish off the Tigers, as the game ended 62-56.
Some player notes from tonight:
The Clemson big men were once again exposed, this time by Cady Lalanne, who scored 20 points and grabbed 12 boards, scoring almost a third of UMass's points. They just couldn't seem to get their hands on the ball in rebounding situations. They would make the initial contact, but couldn't pull it down as the Minutemen collected 17 offensive rebounds.
On the positive note in the post, I am once again impressed by the defensive progress of both Sidy Djitte and Ibrahim Djambo. I expect that they will see increased minutes and they both get more mature on the offensive side of the ball.
A night after combining to shoot 16-19 from the field, K.J. McDaniels and Damarcus Harrison combined to shoot 4-21. McDaniels did not play well at all. He was forcing both shots and passes all night, and was too aggressive in his takes to the basket when a finesse approach was required. The team isn't close to being the same offensively when these two are off.
Rod Hall had an excellent night from the field, scoring a team high 16 points on 7-13 shooting and was the only consistent shooter for the Tigers all night outside of Coleman. He seemed to have some trouble with his dribble penetration tonight as Massachusetts looked to crowd the paint, but made up for it with a sharp jump shot.
On a night where the shots just didn't fall, I think we need to look at the positives of this game. A tweet by @TigerTalk_CU summed up the potential of this team perfectly:
Off night for KJ, Roper hurt, terrible play from bigs, poor shooting night, and we only lost by 6 to a future Top 25 team. #Clemson— Tiger Talk (@TigerTalk_CU) November 25, 2013
The fight shown by the Tigers tonight was very promising, as well as their ability to hang with a very good team despite an off night from so many players. The Tigers have some time off before they look to rebound against Coastal Carolina back at Littlejohn Coliseum on November 29th at 7pm.