I’ll start with the good: Clemson wore the Rick Barnes era throwback uniforms and Aamir Simms was very good in his minutes though plagued by foul trouble.
The bad? Everything else.
The U of SC pulled away from the Tigers in Littlejohn 67-54, thus snapping the dominant streak of wins by the Clemson men’s programs over that school in Columbia over the last three years. The Gamecocks were able to expose the continuing glaring weaknesses of this roster, and quite frankly, the majority of the Brad Brownell’s rosters over his decade as head coach. Frank Martin’s defensive style is to play high pressure man to man, limiting and sometimes eliminating ball reversals and forcing dribble drives into big, strong shot blocking front court bodies. The Tigers were woefully inept at playing effective drive/kick offense, as evidenced by the 9-32 effort from 3-point range and 22 turnovers put forth on Sunday evening.
Recruiting matters, and the Gamecocks had the best player on the floor with A.J. Lawson who put up a stellar 20 point, 6 rebound, 3 steal, and 3 assist night, easily outpacing the Clemson wings John Newman, Hunter Tyson, and Tevin Mack. It was an especially disappointing night for Mack, playing against the team from his hometown, and the Tigers simply could not afford his “off” night of just 3 points on 1-8 shooting.
Al-Amir Dawes was once again mostly a freshman getting exposed against bigger, stronger high major D1 players. Dawes is tough, and I like his future, but he was averaging about 1 good play for every 3 or 4 bad ones. Dawes did hit three 3’s and dish out 5 assists, but he also shot just 4-17 from the floor and many of his 6 turnovers led to run out scores by the Gamecocks.
Speaking of run out scores, the Tigers simply have to find a way to be better in transition for this current team to really hope to deal with teams like U of SC. The Tigers produced 11 steals and turned the Gamecocks over 21 times, but got little, if nothing, in transition off any of those. Once the Gamecock half court defense was set, the Tigers were too small or weak to finish around the rim and unable to knock down open looks on the kicks consistently.
Chase Hunter returned to the lineup after missing some time with a foot injury. His athleticism should have helped in dealing with the pressure, but his rust was clearly apparent as he turned it over twice when he first entered the game and looked very bad on most of his jump shots. Jonathan Baehre got the most minutes he has seen so far but is clearly not adjusted yet from his knee injury. When Simms had to spend extended time on the bench with foul issues, the Tigers just couldn’t keep pace or make a legitimate run at the Gamecocks.
The most frustrating thing for me trying to follow this basketball program is the continued issues with having legitimate shooters in the program. They are out there. I hate to keep referencing my undergraduate alma mater, Wofford College, but I watched them secure a SECOND win tonight in Chapel Hill, mostly on the back of superior 3-point shooting ability. The Terriers were coming off hitting 19 3’s just the game before. Mike Young has taken his philosophy to Virginia Tech and the Hokies have already notched a win probably better than any Brownell has had in his 10 years in Tigertown when they beat Michigan State in the Maui Invitational.
If you can’t sign the ridiculous around the rim talents and out-athlete people, then you should work to secure as much skill as possible and take advantage of the great equalizer in college hoops: the 3-point line. Shooting sub 30% against legitimate teams just isn’t going to get it done.
The Tigers are now 5-5 and have three games left in 2019, all at home: Jacksonville, Yale, and Miami. These are winnable games, and they’ll need to win them to keep their hopes of an NIT bid alive. This is a young team and growing pains were expected, but they should be more watchable than this.