Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
A Clemson basketball team walks into the ACC tournament and loses in excruciating and infuriating fashion through a combination of offensive ineptitude, incompetent officiating, and brutal luck.
The first half was the best case scenario for the Tigers. They came out loose, attacked in transition, found open shots, and buried them. It looked like Clemson was heading for a route, up 36-22 with 5 minutes to go in the half when TV Ted decided he wasn’t getting enough air time and took over the game.
In little over a minute from 5:41 to 4:34 mark TV Ted personally called 5 fouls on Clemson. 1 on Eli Thomas, 2 on Aamir Simms, 1 on Clyde Trapp and 1 final foul on Javan White for good measure. NC State wasn’t able to capitalize on the Clemson foul fest, but Clemson lost all rhythm on offense and Eli Thomas and Aamir Simms were both forced to the bench with 2 fouls. Credit to Javan White, who came in and played admirably at the end of the 1st half, but the Tigers had NC State rocked and lost both of their inside players to foul trouble, preventing the knock out punch.
Clemson took a solid 42-26 lead into the locker room, but as we all know, no lead is safe when the Tigers are playing.
The 2nd half was a microcosm of the season. Clemson came out flat, Eli Thomas picked up his 3rd foul at the 18:51 mark and Clemson fell in love with bricking 3 pointers off bad ball movement. After attacking in transition in the first half and finding good shots early in the shot clock, Clemson decided to slow the game down to a crawl. Instead of crisp ball movement, the Tigers went with Mitchell and Reed playing one on one late in the shot clock and taking contested jumpers from weird angles. It netted the Tigers 16 points in 20 minutes of basketball.
The second half was particularly bad for the Clemson seniors. Shelton Mitchell, put up a horrid 0-6 shooting performance. David Skara, not to be outdone, went 0-3. Eli Thomas was whistled for a foul every time he came within 3 feet of a Wolfpack player, including another egregious charge call on an obvious flop. He contributed 4 points, 2 turnovers and 3 fouls. Marcquise Reed attempted to take the game over, but went 2-8, mostly on contested shots late in the shot clock or wild attempts to finish at the rim.
With Thomas out of the game with foul trouble, Clemson needed Aamir to establish himself in the post and provide some easy baskets for the suddenly ice cold Tigers. Instead he pulled his normal disappearing act, parking his athletic 6’7, 250 pound frame in the corner and waiting for an opportunity to shoot a jump shot. His final attempt at contributing on offense came on a missed jump shot at the 10:10 mark of the second half. He managed pull down 2 rebounds all game.
Clyde Trapp played with his normal reckless energy, but went 0-3 with 2 turnovers in the second half. The only Clemson player who can hold his head high after the game was Javan White, who turned in his best game of the season, scoring 4 points on 2-2 shooting and contributing 2 assists, 2 rebounds and a block in somewhat extended minutes.
On defense, the Wolfpack’s Markell Johnson got searing hot from outside and Clemson once again did a terrible job of identifying the dangerous player and making someone else beat them. Johnson averaged 11 points per game on the season. He rung up Clemson for 13 points in the 2nd half, including draining 2 gifted free throws with 2 seconds remaining to tie and take the lead.
Speaking of the last NC State possession, what an absolute farce by a senior dominated team. First, Clemson couldn’t secure an easy defensive rebound with 41 seconds remaining. That was frustrating but the Tigers had 3 fouls to give at the end. All they needed to do was to continue fouling NC State on the floor to run down the game clock and make NC State beat them on some sort of inbound play with a few seconds remaining.
David Skara managed the trick with 24 second remaining. That was the last thing to go right for the Tigers. Shortly after the in-bounds pass after the Skara foul, Eli Thomas jumped out and reached in on a Wolfpack player 30 feet from the basket with 19 seconds remaining. Eli’s season ended on a questionable call which was fitting. He had no reason to put himself in a position to foul. He gave the refs an opportunity to blow the whistle and they lustily rewarded him with his 5th foul. Finally, with clock running down and Markell Johnson dribbling the ball at the top of the key, Brad Brownell was screaming for Clyde Trapp (in the game because of Eli fouling out) to foul Johnson before he could drive. Instead, Trapp allowed him drive to ball to the basket, grazed his arm, and got whistled for the foul about 5 seconds after making slight contact. It was a bad call, but Trapp should have fouled Johnson when he was 30 feet away from the hoop with less than 5 seconds to go. You can’t make that mistake this late in the season.
Markell Johnson sunk 2 free throws and all Clemson could muster was a running fling by Reed at the buzzer didn’t come close to hitting any part of the goal.
In the end, Clemson’s season ended (or at least their NCAA chances) much like the season played out. A veteran group collapsed in the second half, almost pulled it together to win late, and then lost on a late a bad call.
Clemson basketball needs an exorcism, and, per usual, the ACC officiating crew needs an enema. The only possible intrigue left is a solid N.I.T. bid, but with such a senior laden team, I’m not even sure Clemson should bother. The risk of injury to guys that will most likely be pursuing their basketball career overseas vs the reward of playing in the N.I.T. just doesn’t seem like a good equation.
This off-season will be extremely interesting.