Clemson entered the game at 6-4, riding a four game win streak. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes were struggling through a three game losing streak that included a 20-point home loss to Georgia Tech. As has been especially key for the Tigers, they got off to a solid start and led 13-9 at the under-12 TV timeout.
Unforunately for Clemson, Ivan Cruz Uceda - a 6'10" Spaniard who gained eligibility just a few games ago after transferring from a JUCO - hit three consecutive three-pointers to lead the Hurricanes on a 9-2 run and flip the score to 15-18.
Clemson called a timeout and switched into zone defense. They regained the momentum and got it to half with a razor thin 25-24 lead. Clemson played decent in the half, but did a very poor job extending their defense to the three-point line. Miami hit six threes in the first half comprising 18 of their 24 points.
As we've seen so many times this season, Clemson took a nap during halftime and came out still bleary-eyed. (Take your bets on what Clemson is doing during halftime in the comment section below.) They allowed Miami to make 8 of their first 9 field goals to open the second half as Clemson was blown out in yet another "third quarter." After two games where they did better during this portion of the game, it was back to normal as they were outscored 7-20 during that critical stretch.
Almost immediately after the 10 minute mark, trailing 30-44, Josh Smith stopped the bleeding by beating Uceda in the post, scoring the next four points in the game. At that point, commentator LaPhonso Ellis began strongly urging Clemson to run their offense through Smith, which was... strange to say the least. Once Miami brought Tonye Jekiri, he immediately resumed dominating the glass and changing the game defensively for the 'Canes.
Clemson fought their way back into the game and cut the lead all the way to three, but allowed consecutive Miami three-pointers that extended the lead back to nine. Clemson did a horrible job of contesting threes and late in the game, looked too tired to contest shots well. They allowed a eFG% of 50, which is very uncharacteristic as we discussed this as being a great strength for Clemson's defense.
After an Ajukwa bucket, Clemson had a long possession with multiple offensive rebounds but came up empty when Landry Nnoko missed (another) lay-up and Rod Hall got hit, but didn't get the call in his favor. It was unclear if he injured his shoulder on that play or earlier in the game, but he was seen favoring it throughout the rest of the game, and he played through the injury.
Clemson really never should have been in the NCAA tournament conversation, but when Joe Lunardi put Clemson in his first four out, way too many Clemson fans jumped on board. TCI was talking about it, people on Twitter were telling me not to settle for the NIT, and people were even asking about it in our comments.
A few big take-aways for me. NCAA hopes are gone, though they were never really alive. Landry Nnoko got worked. He had 2 points on 8 shots and 4 rebounds while Miami's center had 16 rebounds, 6 points, and 5 blocks including two of Nnoko where he didn't even leave his feet. Nnoko posted an Ortg of just 50 (compare to Jekiri at 85). After chatting with fellow STS writer Mark Gordon, I tend to agree with him that Josh Smith should usurp him as the starting center.
Further, Rod Hall injured his shoulder in this game. If he is limited, it is crushing for this team's hopes. I would like to see his minutes reduced (he played 38) if he needs time to recover. We need to see what DeVoe or Roper can do at PG. Next year, Ty Hudson and Avry Holmes, two players who have never played in the ACC, may be 100% of the PG rotation. it would be good to learn as much as possible about other options while there is no NCAA bid on the line.
Demarcus Harrison posted a team low 44 Ortg. I hate to see minutes pulled from a senior during the final games of his career, but I'd rather see what Ajukwa can do as he needs to be a major factor next season.
This team is 4-1 in their last five games, so the sky is not falling, but their problems are obvious and have been with them all season. Poor play for the center position still plagues them. Horrible play coming out of the half cost them another game, and three point shooting decided another game. It would be classic Brownell if this team now turned around and beat Notre Dame... In fact I expect it.