Losers of five of their past six games including a home loss to Yale in their previous tilt, the Clemson Tigers basketball team hosted Miami on New Year’s Eve, needing a win to keep any hopes of an NIT bid alive.
Clyde Trapp, finally healthy after an offseason ACL tear, earned his first start of the season. Al-Amir Dawes, the true freshman who had been starting, came off the bench for the first time this season. With a turnover rate of 28%, he was beginning to look a little overwhelmed running the offense, though his future is still bright, so this change is much needed.
Trapp hit the games first three-pointer to give the Tigers an early 5-2 lead over the Hurricanes. He looked sharp throughout the first half leading the team with 8 first half points. That helped guide the Tigers to an early 19-11 lead. It seemed his return to full health could mark a shift in the Tigers season.
Miami is normally a very good 3-point shooting team, making a school-record 18 3-pointers against Coppin State in their last game, but they started off cold. They finished the first half just 3-12. Despite that, a Clemson scoring drought allowed Miami to come back and take a 20-19 lead before the first half ended knotted up 26-26.
The Tigers came out of halftime strong, outscoring the Hurricanes 20-10 to take a 10-point (46-36) lead with just under 13 minutes remaining. The Tigers maintained the 10-point lead at 55-45, but allowed Miami to comeback and tie it at 57. The Hurricanes run was largely fueled by a switch to a zone defense. With 3:30 remaining a Sam Waardenburg 3-pointer gave Miami a 60-57 lead.
After a Tiger basket brought them within one point, a Hunter Tyson three-point play gave the Tigers a brief two-point lead. Miami’s star PG Chris Lykes drove to the basket and tied it up at 62 with an impressive lay-in.
With under a minute remaining and the ball, Coach Brownell elected to not rush for the two for one, instead having his team burn 19 seconds and then call a timeout. Coming out of the timeout Al-Amir Dawes attacked the basket, slipped, and was called for the obvious travel. Because the Tigers did not go two-for-one Miami had the last shot of the game and wisely burned the clock down to 8 seconds before starting their offense. Lykes took a 3-pointer, but missed. The rebound when to Miami who got a decent look, but missed. The Tigers were fortunate to still be playing as the game went to overtime.
With under 2 minutes left in OT, Aamir Simms posted up and then dished a beautiful behind the back pass to a cutting John Newman for a lay-up. It gave the Tigers a 68-66 lead. Miami’s Chris Lykes made two FTs on the ensuing possession to re-tie the game at 68. Then, Dawes took a low percentage shot, a long 2-pointer with his foot on the 3-point line. It missed and Miami’s Dejan Vasiljevic countered by nailing a 3-pointer to put Miami up 71-68. Clemson called a timeout with 52 seconds remaining. Coming out of the timeout, the Tigers settled for a deep 3-pointer which clanked off the rim. The Tigers got the defensive stop, but again settled for a bad 3-pointer, this time Curran Scott chucked an off-balance three-pointer (hoping for a foul) to tie the game. It was nowhere close. The Tigers fouled, Miami knocked both free throws in, and the Hurricanes earned a 73-68 win in Littlejohn.
It was another extremely discouraging effort by the Tigers. Poor decisions and even worse execution in key moments have plagued this program for years, with the glaring exception of the Sweet 16 year. The Tigers blew a 10-point lead and played their worst in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime, settling for bad shots time and time again. Chris Lykes torched the Tigers for 27 points on 10-16 shooting.
Aamir Simms played well and finished with 21 and Trapp looked healthy scoring 13. The Tigers will benefit when Jonathan Baehre, Chase Hunter, and Alex Hemingway return from injury, but it isn’t fair to expect them to be game changers. This may be a two or three win team in conference play. The Tigers are now 6-7 (0-3) with the toughest portion of the schedule remaining. An NCAA tournament at-large bid is totally out of reach and an NIT bid is likely out too. With a strong recruiting class coming in, the message boards will likely be hollering for a coaching change that doesn’t come at season’s end.