Close losses in the regular season kept the Tigers out of the NCAA tournament, but with a #2 in a reasonably open quadrant an NIT title appeared to be a reasonable goal. They opened as double-digit home favorites over the Oakland Grizzlies of Michigan.
Like Vegas, KenPom did not like Oakland, ranking them #112 nationally heading into the contest. While their relatively up-tempo style may obscure their offensive stats, they only scored 103 points per 100 possessions on the season, compared to 115 per 100 possessions for the Tigers. In Littlejohn Coliseum, this was a game that KenPom gave the Tigers an 85% chance to win and for the first time all year, KenPom really missed the boat by a wide margin.
The game started out as a back-and-forth affair with the teams knotted at 15 after 10 minutes of play. The Grizzlies would score just nine points in the remainder of the half as the Tigers pulled away. Turnovers hurt Oakland as the Tigers collected easy buckets off 10 first half turnovers.
The Tigers claimed a 16-point lead with just a few seconds remaining in the half. Oakland in-bounded the ball and promptly traveled while attempted to heave the ball for a three-quarters court shot. This gave the Tigers the ball with 0.7 remaining in the half. An uncharacteristically nice in-bounding play that had multiple options worked beautifully. Marcquise Reed was not open, but Gabe DeVoe came open and was promptly hit with the pass. Without hesitation he fired a fade-away three-pointer, just barely releasing it before the buzzer, and nailed it to extend Clemson’s lead to 19 with a 20-5 run to end the half at 43-24.
DAGGER! Absolute dagger. Right?
Teams started the second half going back-and-forth with the Tigers maintaining their strong 19-point lead through four minutes at 52-33. With their defense already softening, the Tigers offense lost focus. A top 30 offensive unit all season scored just 14 points in the final 15:52 and relied on their defense, but as was a problem early in ACC play, the OAKLAND GRIZZLIES began dominating the offensive glass. By the end of the night the Grizzlies had grabbed 40% of their offensive rebounding opportunities. Let me state that another way. Oakland missed 34 shots, but rebounded 14 of them. The Tigers missed 41 shots yet only grabbed 11 rebounds. The Tigers were beat up on the glass by a Horizon League team that starts a 6’7” player, Jalen Hayes, at Center. Oh, and Jalen Hayes, their best rebounder, got banged up and only played 15 minutes.
With this rebounding edge, Oakland chipped away until they finally tied the game at 61 with with a Sherron Dorsey-Walker three-pointer. He led all Grizzlies with 23. Dorsey-Walker would then trade two-point buckets with Jaron Blossomgame, who led the Tigers with 24 points. With the game tied at 63 apiece, Oakland went on an 8-0 to take control of the game, and end Clemson’s season and hope of an NIT run.
The Oakland Grizzlies came to Clemson as a #7 seed in the NIT from the Horizon League and closed a lead that with just under 18 minutes left was at 49-29, using an advantage on the glass to beat the Tigers.
While the NIT doesn’t mean what it used to, ending with a run would have served to build momentum and confidence for the program. Even as many were disinterested, die-hards badly wanted to experience some post-seasons success. Unfortunately, one of the most embarrassing losses of the Brownell-era will be the last for these seniors.
It appeared Coach Brownell was a near lock to return to Clemson. According to Grace Raynor of the Post and Courrier, Coach Brownell said the following during prep for the NIT:
“It’s really not my decision, but yes I do (feel comfortable I’ll be back). Dan (Radakovich) and the administration handle all those things. We’re not at the end of the season so we haven’t had our end-of-the-year meeting, but he’s been very supportive. I think he recognizes a lot of the positive things happening in our program. So, yes. I feel comfortable.”
It is yet to be seen if this loss changes things. If so, a buy-out would cost $3.5 million, a large sum of money, but far less than what a new softball stadium will cost (Mizzou planned for over $12 million). Check back with STS as we’ll bring you concise and honest recapping of the basketball season and then shift our focus to baseball and of course, your national champion football program.