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Clemson Falls to Auburn 66-64

Calvin Craft recaps Clemson's Thursday night back and forth loss to the Auburn Tigers

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

This game began with Clemson in a serious funk as Auburn was making shots from everywhere and racing out to a double figure lead in the first half.  Luckily for Clemson, KJ McDaniels, who is a real BAMF (you can do the math on that acronym), took it upon himself to be the Tiger offense early with a couple of three's and two emphatic dunks mixed in.  As the half wore on, though, Clemson found its legs on the defensive end which created some transition opportunities.  You hear about teams being in offensive rhythm, but this Tiger squad clearly develops defensive rhythm that is obvious when you watch them play.  They seem to get a read on the opposing attack and really begin to squeeze what the other team likes to do.  As long as they are rebounding, which has been hit and miss for the Tigers this year, Clemson looks like a very dangerous team.  The run at the end of the first half, Clemson held Auburn to one shot or turned them over time and again, and everything began to look smoother as a result.  Rod Hall had a stretch that makes you really wonder how good he could be if he could consistently bury that three off the ball screen because folks almost always go under against him.  Hall's second triple in a row off the high ball screen tied the game at the half and gave Clemson the momentum heading to the locker room.

Clemson roared out of the locker room and appeared ready to take the game over completely.  Jordan Roper finally found his jump shot and began to stick that pull up jumper.  Brownell went to the bench and unfortunately it backfired and Adonis Filer running the Tiger offense resulted in some poor possessions.  By the time Brad got Hall back in the game, Auburn had regained some momentum and started its comeback.  Auburn scrapped for a five shot possession at one point, and Clemson began missing from the perimeter and getting no second chance opportunities.  Auburn regained the lead before KJ came out of the phone booth once again with a baseline blow by dunk.  Auburn's star guard KT Harrell (who looks a LOT like Greg Buckner circa 1997) made some nice moves to keep Auburn in it, but Clemson was forcing some higher difficulty attempts compared to the early first half.  However, the Jekyll and Hyde act that is Landry Nnoko was in full Hyde mode when he missed a total bunny put back and then had an awful turnover on a botched handoff that led to a 3 point play.  Fortunately for Clemson, the FT shooting was clearly an advantage for them as Auburn bricked away even after getting some very favorable touch foul calls mid way through the second half that got them in the bonus.

Down the stretch, Clemson got hosed on a terrible charge call on Blossomgame with the game tied at 60.   Harrell got Auburn on top with a tough left handed drive on KJ, but Rod Hall's superior strength drew a foul and he calmly buried the FT's to tie it again.   Auburn then got bailed out of a terrible late foul call after Denson just threw himself into Harrison and chucked up a prayer.  Clemson squandered its chance to regain the lead and was forced to foul inside of 15 seconds.  At this point I was cursing the blown opportunities to bury Auburn earlier in the half.  Failure to be efficient with the backup point guard and the Tiger bigs disappearing allowed Auburn to claw back into the game.  What appeared to be a foul on a 3 attempt by Roper was called on the floor (another very questionable call) and after missing the first, Roper just chucked up the second which Auburn flubbed out of bounds.  Clemson could only get a dunk and Hall's desperation heave hit off the back rim.

In short, this was a terrible loss.  Winning on the road ain't easy, but Auburn is a lower tier SEC team that Clemson should be beating.  But, until Clemson can get some consistent play from the post players and not need KJ and Rod Hall to do the heavy lifting all night, these types of let downs will continue.  This opens up questions about how the Tigers will fare on the road in the ACC when facing the middle to lower end of the conference.  Getting to the NIT would be a good step for this young team, but it will require some road game efforts better than this one to pull it off.  The calls didn't help but Clemson should never have allowed that to become an issue.

The GOOD:  KJ McDaniels was once again the most complete player on the floor.  He probably should have been more assertive down the stretch, but overall you can't argue with nearly 20 points, multiple blocks, and solid rebounding.  Rod Hall was his usual steady self and continues to drain free throws at a high rate, though he was not as effective in shutting down Denson (though Denson was getting ball screens routinely that forced Hall to switch off or recover).

The BAD:  Brownell and staff are going to no doubt look back at that five shot Auburn possession that led to a basket as a real turning point.  Get that stop and the momentum swell subsides and Clemson could probably control things from that point.  However, a desperate team found hope and began getting seemingly all the breaks and calls from that point on.  Rebound that effing basketball!

The UGLY:  Roper gave Clemson some bench scoring, and thankfully so, because the Tigers got next to nothing out of Harrison, Filer, Coleman, and Djitte.  Auburn had been lit up from 3 by Iowa State and Illinois, but the Clemson shooters never got on track.  KJ and Rod were the only guys to make three's all night.  This loss may very well haunt the Tigers big time come late February.