Stand and applaud. This was a special season. If you are tuning in late, we invite you to join us at t he start next season as this could be the program’s turning point, not the peak.
In the pre-season, our staff opined that this team would be lucky to even get on the bubble. Several players showed tremendous growth in turning a 17-16 team in a 5-seed that dominated their way into the Sweet 16. We’ll have a full season recap for you soon enough, but first let’s discuss the battle that ensued in Omaha against the Jayhawks.
The Tigers were sloppy early. DeVoe kept them within striking distance scoring 12 points in the first half, but the Tigers committed 8 turnovers allowing Kansas to control the half. Shelton Mitchell (0-4) and Marcquise Reed (1-7) had poor opening halves, but even still the Tigers were within 8 points with 1:01 remaining the half.
Then the most critical plays of the game occurred. Marcquise Reed scored his only field goal of the first half and just a split second after it went through the net the whistle blew. Eli Thomas and a Jayhawk player got tangled up under the basket. They reviewed the play and it was clear Eli Thomas pushed him in the head so a Flagrant 1 Foul was assessed. The Reed basket would count, but Kansas got two free throws and the ball. They made both free throws, then with the possession, got a third foul drawn against David Skara. Moments later on the possession, Lagerald Vick hit a three-pointer to send Kansas into halftime with a 13-point lead.
Udoka Azubuike played a critical role in the first half scoring 10 of his eventual 14 points. He also anchored the defense, making life difficult for the Clemson offense. It was clear his conditioning wasn’t up to snuff coming off the knee injury though as he was huffing and puffing and in need of several spells on the bench. He’d fade and eventually foul out in the second half.
Kansas shot just 4-13 from three in the first half. They entered the game ranked 5th in the country with a 40% 3P% so the slow start was a lucky break for Clemson. That would would run out immediately in the second half though. In just 1:53 the Jayhawks went 3-3 from three-point territory for a 9-2 run. It pushed the lead to 20. It was a 14-2 run when you include the last 1:01 of the first half. This 2:54 stretch decided the game. They’d hit another three before Clemson could regain their bearings and start fighting back.
With 10 minutes to go Devonte’ Graham drove the basket. Reed was defending, but Graham pushed him away to create space. Inexplicably, when the whistle came it was on Reed. The foul would have been Graham’s 4th and sent him to the bench. Instead he stayed on the court.
About two minutes later Graham would pick up that fourth foul and Azubuike would follow suit at the 7:13 mark. Both exited the game. Clemson had turned the tide and with Graham’s elite talent and Azubuike’s defense presence now sitting, a Clemson run felt inevitable. There just wasn’t enough time to close the then 16-point deficit.
With four minutes remaining they’d trimmed it to 11. At 2:27, a bad pass led to a Kansas turnover. Shelton Mitchell turned it into an epic tomahawk dunk to slice the lead to six.
The Tigers would then need a defensive stop, and a gritty stop they got, but Devonte’ Graham came up with the play of the game, a sneaky offensive rebound that gave the Jayhawks the ball. They’d eat 28 more seconds off the clock before drawing a foul. They’d miss the FTs, which would allow Clemson to slice the lead all the way down to four, but there simply wasn’t enough time and Kansas managed to salt it away and cling to a 80-76 victory.
In his final game as a Clemson Tiger, Gabe DeVoe scored a career-high 31 points to go with 9 rebounds - a truly virtuoso farewell. The Tigers were 12-0 since the start of ACC play when DeVoe scored at least 13. DeVoe is one we’re sad to see go. Thank you “Bobby Buckets”! Our tribute article can be found here.
The end of the college basketball season is bitter for 67 of the NCAA tournament teams, but even with this loss, the Tigers far exceeded expectations and historical performances. This is undoubtedly one of Clemson’s best teams in school history.
Please continue to click over to Shakin the Southland as we recap the basketball season, discuss baseball, and in the not to distant future begin previewing some 2019 Clemson football!