CLEMSON — Jim Larranaga and Brad Brownell go way back, back to their time in the Colonial Athletic Association when Larranaga was at George Mason and Brownell was an assistant and then head coach at UNC Wilmington.
Most of their meetings have followed the same script: rugged defense, low scoring, down-to-the-wire basketball like in No. 3 Miami’s 45-43 win at Littlejohn Coliseum on Sunday.
“Every time our teams have gone head to head, it’s been very much like this. (Sunday) was not surprising,” said Larranaga, now the Miami coach. “When Brad Brownell was at Wilmington one year, the final score in the CAA championship game was 35-33. … (Sunday) was not pretty but shows an awful lot of competitive spirit by both teams.”
Said Clemson’s Brownell of his battles with Larranaga: “It’s grind-it-out basketball, both teams are well prepared, someone making a play to win a game.”
On Sunday, it was once again a Clemson opponent making a play in the critical, final moments. A week after N.C. State’s Scott Wood beat Clemson with a late 3-pointer, Miami forward Kenny Kadji hit a 3 to give Miami (21-3, 12-0 ACC) a 44-43 lead with 34 seconds to play, which proved to be the game-winning play.
Clemson (13-12, 5-8) didn’t make plays in final seconds.
On Clemson’s final possession, guard Rod Hall created space off the dribble and a layup attempt, but missed the shot. K.J. McDaniels and Devin Booker collided, missing a tip-in opportunity. The final buzzer sounded.
While many of the games between Brownell- and Larranaga-led teams have gone down to the final possessions. Clemson could have had a greater margin for error Sunday.
Nearly as certain as life, death and taxes has been Clemson’s struggles at the free-throw line.
Clemson made just 5 of 13 free throws and missed two critical free throws in the final 69 seconds.
“The free throws at the end were a killer,” Brownell said.
And besides Jordan Roper, who scored 19 points on 72 percent shooting from the floor, the rest of the Tigers shot only 20 percent (9 of 45) from the field.
Miami wasn’t much better, shooting 34 percent. Miami guards Durand Scott and Shane Larkin combined for 10 points.
Roper was able to use his quick feet and his quick release to create space to shoot.
“In high school, all I did was dribble penetration, pull-up shots,” Roper said. “Here, I’ve improved my catch and shot. Now, I’m getting back to what I used to do, dribble penetration, pull-up jump shots. Now, if I can incorporate it all, I can be dangerous.”
The rest of Clemson’s players struggled with Miami’s massive front line that includes Kadji, 6-10, 290-pound Reggie Johnson and the 6-10, 250-pound Julian Gamble.
Clemson’s Devin Booker made just 4 of 13 shot attempts, K.J. McDaniels was 1 of 11 and Milton Jennings was 2 of 12.
“Certainly their size was problematic around the basket,” Brownell said. “They protect the basket well and bother some your post players’ shots. They come over on some shots against other players, like K.J. (McDaniels).”
Clemson does not have a midweek game this week.
“We have to get our legs back under us,” Booker said. “We just have to keep our heads up and move on.”