CLEMSON — Critical late-game moments have been too big for the Clemson men’s basketball team this season.
Days after nearly upsetting N.C. State on the road, Clemson led Florida State by 10 points midway through the second half Thursday before letting a quality road win slip away. Clemson also competed well against Gonzaga and Arizona before fading late. The Tigers are 0-3 in games decided by five points or less.
Brad Brownell’s young team has had trouble closing out games, and its margin for error in building a strong postseason resume is becoming increasingly slim as the Tigers host Virginia Tech (11-7, 2-3 ACC) at 1 p.m. today with a 10-8 overall record and a 2-4 mark in league play.
Clemson needs a closer, and quickly.
“(At Florida State) we looked like a team that didn’t have a guy that wanted to go make a play,” Brownell said. “I think when you’ve lost a few games you’re not as confident. Like at N.C. State where you are battling back the whole night, the coaches are telling you ‘we are playing well we will have a chance if we keep doing what we are doing.’ All of the sudden you look up during a timeout and here we are, it’s winning time. We are just a play or two away from a big win. Those are tough things. Those aren’t easy things to do.”
Brownell has lamented the lack of a guard who has the ability to create his own shot off the dribble and finish, he feels that hurts Clemson in late-game situations.
Clemson has not had that type of player since Demontez Stitt in 2010-11, which also coincided with Clemson’s last NCAA tournament experience.
Clemson point guard Rod Hall has made strides penetrating with the ball and confidently pulling up and shooting jumpshots, doing both en route to 16 points at N.C. State. But he’s still inconsistent as seen with his 2-of-8 shooting effort at Florida State.
Athletic wing K.J. McDaniels is also inconsistent as a scorer.
Tigers forward Devin Booker is off to an excellent start in ACC play but opposing defense can more easily shut down an interior threat, especially if he is the only scoring threat on a roster.
Closing games is also about making shots, and Clemson is short on shooters.
The Tigers made just 67 percent of free throws at Florida State while the Seminoles made 90 percent of their free throws, a critical difference in the game. Clemson lost despite outrebounding Florida State, lost despite taking more shots than the Seminoles, and lost despite having fewer turnovers, all because Clemson couldn’t shoot efficiently from the free throw line or from 3-point range (3 of 16).
Clemson has made offensive gains this season, but they haven’t made enough, the Tigers still need to find a perimeter scorer and closer and time is running out on their search.