Reversion to the mean goes both ways. Clemson’s football team started the year 4-4 in large part due to horrible turnover luck. Over their next five game, opponents made egregious turnovers, gifting the Tigers opportunity galore, and they rode that to a five-game win streak. Conversely, the Clemson basketball team started the year making seemingly every shot they took. PJ Hall avoided foul trouble and made exceptional plays around the rim while Joe Girard made every 3-pointer he took, and Chase Hunter played quality basketball at point guard to make it all work.
Now, all of that has flipped. PJ Hall continuously finds himself in foul trouble — largely because of foolish plays and bad calls — and the guards who played so well early in the year are mired in slumps. Over the past two games, Joe Girard and Chase Hunter are a combined is 2-19 from 3. Clemson is just 2-4 in their past six games with the lone wins coming against Queens and Radford.
The Tigers were in Blacksburg looking to rebound from their first home loss of the year — a defensive struggle against UNC. While the Tigers offense certainly looked less lethargic, the defense that kept them competitive with the Tar Heels was nowhere to be found. Virginia Tech’s offense had their way with Clemson in the first half scoring a whopping 53 points before the break. Point guard Sean Pedula did the most damage scoring 19 in the first half en route to a career-high 32-points. Neither Chase Hunter nor Joe Girard could do much to slow him down.
Likewise, Tyler Nickel, a VT transfer from UNC who previously set the high school scoring record in the state of Virginia had his breakout game. He scored 16 points off the bench in the first half before starting the second half and finishing with a career-high of 24 points on 8-11 shooting. He was extremely efficient and Clemson had no answer for the 6-7 sophomore wing.
Shortly before halftime, RJ Godfrey dove for a lose ball and inadvertently kicked VT shooting guard and second-leading scorer Hunter Cattoor in the side of the head. Cattoor left the game and did not return. Although the announcers suggested this could open up opportunities for Joe Girard to score, cold shooting preventing him from really taking advantage as he finished 3-10 for 12 points.
Chase Hunter entered the game already slumping and moved to shooting guard with Girard taking the point. This initially seemed to make Hunter more comfortable, but he continued to struggle with his shot. Even after making good plays to get quality looks, he couldn’t finish and ended 3-13. Dillon Hunter and Josh Beadle made a few good plays in relief of Clemson’s struggling starting guards, but finished with just 7 combined points in 35 minutes of play.
One of the big matchups to watch in this game was at center where PJ Hall matched up against former Tiger Lynn Kidd. Neither impressed. Kidd finished with just 6 points while PJ Hall scored nine of his 11 points from 3 and failed become a focal point of Clemson’s offense that allowed them to play inside-out basketball.
Ian Schieffelin and Chauncey Wiggins played well. Schieffelin had 15 points on 7-10 shooting and 8 rebounds while Wiggins had 12 points on 5-7 shooting.
Clemson must be better defensively or they will struggle to win in the ACC. Regardless of their defense, they need more from Chase Hunter and Joe Girard. Girard has been mostly good this season and is entitled to a pair of poor shooting performances, but Chase Hunter hasn’t looked right for weeks.
The Tigers are now 11-4 (1-3). A top 4 spot in the ACC (and the double-bye in the ACC tournament) feels unlikely, but an NCAA tournament bid could still be in the cards. The Tigers had such a strong non-conference performance, they can overcome this bad stretch, but it must end immediately. Their next two games come at home against Boston College and Georgia Tech. Clemson has not lost to a team outside the top 60 of KenPom’s rankings yet — the very thing that doomed Clemson last season. Dropping either of the next two games would be devastating and put this team in a downward spiral that could see them miss the NCAA tournament. Winning them both could be the start of a turnaround. This team is at a key juncture and we’ll see what they’re made of very soon.