The Tigers have been incredibly unlucky this season. They’ve lost nearly every close conference game, fell victim to opponent’s heroics (e.g., Joel Berry circus shots), and rank dead last (351st) in opponent FT% (i.e., opponents shoot 77% at the line when they play Clemson).
This 65-71 road loss to Miami, can’t be blamed on poor luck though. Although some calls went against the Tigers, the Hurricanes played without their starting PG Ja’Quan Newton (suspension), yet were undoubtedly the better team throughout the second half.
Clemson did not make a three-pointer in the second half and missed critical free-throws down the stretch. They shot just 17.6% (3-17) from three and 53.3% (8-15) from the FT line on the day.
The game started more promising though. It was uptempo and high scoring. Eli Thomas got the start over Sidy Djitte and played great, particularly early. He and Marquise Reed combined for 14 points over the opening few minutes as the teams went back and forth. The Tigers trailed 33-35 at halftime, a good position to be in on the road with Jaron Blossomgame having a mostly quiet game.
The Hurricanes gusted coming out of the break (yes, I just did that), and blew the Tigers away (can you believe I forced it in again?). Miami pushed their two point lead to a nine point, 43-34, lead with 16 minutes left to play. The Tigers would battle back, but never tie the game as they couldn’t convert big FTs or knock down critical threes.
Jaron Blossomgame led the Tigers with 16 points, but struggled tremendously with his jump shot. He air balled consecutive three-pointers and finished 0-5 from three. He left a handful of free throw well short finishing just 2-5 from the line. He was able to pick-up his points with great post moves and toughness around the rim. His ability to score when his shot is off is a testament to how well-rounded he is as a player, however the eye test matches the stats, and neither look better than a year ago (excluding his post moves).
Marquise Reed made a handful of very difficult shots down the stretch, including one that trimmed the lead to just four at the seven-minute mark, but Miami promptly answered with a three-pointer. Again at the two-minute mark, Reed would beat the defense and get to the line where he’d hit both free throws and make it a three-point game, but yet again Miami would answer and then Clemson would finally fade away.
The loss puts Clemson at 4-10 in ACC play. Realistically, the Tigers need to win five straight ACC games to make the NCAA tournament. With games at VT and vs. FSU, two teams they’ve already lost to, that won’t happen.
Aside from the gut-punch loss, Donte Grantham’s continued poor play may be the biggest discouragement of the game. He scored zero points in 20 minutes. Clemson was outscored by 15 in the 20 minutes he was on the court. He has the size and athleticism to be a major difference maker, but his play hasn’t matched his recruiting hype.
Conversely, Eli Thomas proved why he earned the start playing with passion, avoiding foul trouble, and never giving up. His play was among the most encouraging of the night.
Looking to next season, the Tigers will return Eli Thomas and Marquise Reed. They will likely be their best scorers while Shelton Mitchell will be their distributor. With Djitte, Holmes, and Blossomgame leaving, the defense could get worse though. The Tigers missed their opportunity this season. Part of that is bad luck both in games and in being part of a historically great conference, but they get little sympathy, because they lacked the killer instinct we enjoyed throughout all of football season.
We will have a full post about Brad Brownell and his future at Clemson coming Sunday night, so I ask that we hold off on the Brownell conversation until then.
Clemson beat Alabama 35-31 to win the National Championship. It’s not pertinent here, but sometimes I find it helps to think about it after watching our basketball team lose. If you are in need of therapy after watching a 10th ACC loss, please go here.