CLEMSON — Following Clemson’s eighth loss in nine games, its fourth straight home loss, its fifth consecutive, a 68-61 loss to a lowly Boston College team on senior night Tuesday, Clemson coach Brad Brownell was asked a straightforward question. A reporter inquired if this was the toughest season of Brownell’s career, a career that spans 10 seasons and three coaching stops.
The third-year Clemson coach did not hesitate.
“Yeah,” Brownell said, “without question.”
Brownell’s teams typically become better as seasons progress. In his first year at Clemson, Brownell guided the Tigers to the NCAA tournament. Last season, Clemson finished above .500 for the ninth straight season.
But this year Clemson (13-16, 5-12 ACC) is now likely to finish below .500 for the first time since 2003-04, and Brownell is likely to finish below .500 for the first time in his head coaching career following an ugly home loss to Boston College (14-16, 6-11).
For Clemson to finish reach .500, it requires a win at Miami on Saturday and three wins in the ACC tournament where Clemson is guaranteed to play on the first day.
Why is Clemson spiraling downward in the standings?
“It’s because we have holes,” Brownell said. “We have holes in our game, especially offensively. You go through these droughts and then it wears on your defense. Your defense has to be like perfect.”
Brownell told a sparse Littlejohn Coliseum crowd following the game that Devin Booker (19 points, eight rebounds) and Milton (18 points, eight rebounds) are underappreciated.
They might be much more appreciated next year as the three players who will not return — Booker, Jennings, and Damarcus Harrison, who is expected to go on a Mormon mission — combined for 48 of Clemson’s points Tuesday.
Clemson’s young guards again struggled. Adonis Filer, Rod Hall and Jordan Roper combined to make just 6 of 22 shots. As a reult of Clemson’s failure to knock down perimeter shots (3 of 16 from 3), Boston College focused on defending the paint.
Clemson went through a five-minute stretch where it was unable to produce a field goal in the second half Tuesday. The Tigers went from leading to trailing Boston College, 55-46, with five minutes to play.
Clemson has talent voids, and it is also thin on numbers.
The Tigers were without their third-leading scorer and leading shot blocker, K.J. McDaniels, for a third straight game (ankle).
“With our limited numbers, we can’t change much how we do things,” Brownell said. “We don’t have a lot of depth, so we can’t press for 30 minutes. We just have to keep playing and it almost seems like there comes a point where we get in a little bit of a rut.”
The Tigers’ poor play combined with poor weather meant Littlejohn Coliseum was only at perhaps 40 percent capacity to wish the two players, Booker and Jennings, farewell — though Clemson president Jim Barker, who had quintuple bypass surgery in January, was present. They are two players who were never fully embraced because they failed to live up to lofty expectations.
Jennings said he had few regrets about his Clemson career but noted it wasn’t an easy season.
“How could you get any better when you only have two seniors (and no juniors)?” Jennings said.
Booker said the postgame locker room, like the arena environment for much of the game, was quiet.
“Everybody was pretty upset,” Booker said. “I think Milton and I left it all on the court.”