Pending an unlikely NIT invitation (we had circled the 17-win mark for an invitation and have 16), this loss may have been the finale to Clemson's season. If so, the Tigers' two seniors couldn't have had more different conclusions to their careers.
Rod Hall got his 92nd career start for the Tigers, a program record, while Brownell elected to start Roper over senior Demarcus Harrison. Hall struggled to stick with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, but so did everybody else Brownell tried against the sharpshooter who finished 5-9 from three. Hall played 36 minutes and finished with a career high 25 points.
Harrison though, only saw the court for 7 minutes. He was an efficient shooter, going 2-3 with a three-pointer, but committed two turnovers and three fouls in that very short amount of time. At the end of the game, needing a game tying-three, Brownell trusted a freshman over the senior who led the team in three-point shooting all season.
Clemson got off to a quality start and took a 16-15 lead when Jordan Roper hit his only three-pointer of the contest at the 9:53 mark. Two lay-ups, two jumpers, and two free throws later, Clemson trailed 16-25 necessitating a Clemson timeout at the 6:21 mark. The teams would trade short runs before entering the halftime with Florida State holding a 7-point lead.
We've talked about Clemson's sometimes disastrous "third quarters" many times throughout this season, so I won't belabor the point, but it happened again. In the first 10 minutes out of the half, that 7-point deficit became a 16-point disadvantage at 37-53. A minute later, Florida State would claim the largest lead of the game and the ACC tournament to that point, 37-57.
Clemson would call a timeout and regroup. With little hope left, Rod Hall then embarked on a mission to keep his Clemson career alive. In the final 7:09 Rod Hall scored 17 of his 25 minutes. He continuously got into the lane and somehow scored against the giant front line of the Seminoles.
Clemson's full court pressure bothered Florida State as they made a handful of in-bounding mistakes, something we know all about. This led to a few easy buckets for Clemson. Meanwhile, an up-tempo, aggressive offensive attack led by Rod Hall and helped by prayer three-pointers from DeVoe and Harrison brought Clemson back to within two-points.
Unfortunately, that's the point when you finally started to believe they may just pull off an outstanding comeback. After possibly the best 7 minutes of basketball of his career, Rod Hall got into the lane and let loose one of the floaters he had been knocking down all night. It hung on the rim momentarily before rolling just short of tying the game at 75.
Clemson would foul immediately and benefit from one Phil Cofer missed free throw, keeping them within one possession, now trailing 73-76. They would sprint up court and call a timeout to draw up the final play. Surprisingly, Brownell drew up a play that put the ball in Freshman Gabe DeVoe's hands for the game winning bucket. DeVoe came off the screen and immediately fired. He nearly buried it, but was just off the mark, extinguishing Clemson's chances of completing the comeback.
Demarcus Harrison's fouls and turnovers were fair reason for his minimal playing time, but it was rather surprising for the young freshman to be given that look over the senior who leads the team in 3P%. Of course, he may not have been the first option on the in-bounds. Still, it may say something regarding Brownell's thoughts on the SG position that he put the ball in DeVoe's hands, someone he didn't trust to play in a competitive game until a week ago, over Harrison's or Roper's.
This was one of the more frustrating losses of the season. The defense, could not find a way to slow down Rathan-Mayes and the offense simply couldn't keep up.
Hall and Blossomgame combined for 39 points while posting Ortg ratings of 138 and 150 respectively. I can't say enough positive things about those two players. Hall played with the passion and heart (he was clearly battling through shoulder pain) that makes you proud to call him a fellow alumnus. Blossomgame was by far the biggest bright spot on the season, already emerging as Clemson's best player while maintaining two more years of eligibility.
Unfortunately, the rest of the team finished 14-40 from the field and 0-2 from the free throw line, all with sub-100 Ortgs. Grantham was just 2-9 on the day, missing all three of his two-pointers and both of his free throws. Luckily, he had 7 assists, otherwise his 6-point effort would be much worse. Roper finished with only 5 points and Nnoko fouled out in just 25 minutes of play. For easy math, that's 8 fouls per 40 minutes for the Cameroonian.
One of his fouls was deemed a Flagrant 1, despite replay clearly showing that there was absolutely no contact made with the elbow. Boris Bojanovsky would knock down both free throws. Ironically, it wasn't too much later that Rod Hall was smacked in the face while attempting a free throw and had to exit the game to recover from the hit. Not only did the missed call cost Clemson two free throws, but it removed Hall from the game for a brief time. The officials struggled, there's no way around it, but when you fall down 20 points and come back once your opponent falls asleep, it seems disingenuous to blame the refs, so we won't.
For now, we're crossing our fingers, but not holding our breath for an NIT bid. Without it, Clemson will have fallen short on nearly every reasonable (and modest) goal:
- .500 in ACC play
- Win an ACC tournament game
- Beat South Carolina
- Extend the GT win streak to 12
- Make the NIT
- Make the NCAA tournament