CLEMSON - After falling short in its chase for the NCAA tournament field, the Clemson men's basketball team returned to postseason action for the first time in three years by accepting a bid Sunday night to the National Invitation Tournament.
TIGERS IN THE NIT
Who: No. 3 Clemson (20-12) vs. No. 6 Georgia State (25-8)
When: Tuesday, 9 p.m.
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, S.C.
Tickets: ClemsonTigers.com, 1-800-CLEMSON or athletic ticket office
Clemson (20-12) grabbed one of the NIT's four No. 3 seeds, and as the better seed will host No. 6 Georgia State (25-8) Tuesday at 9 p.m. in a first-round game televised by ESPNU.
"I don't think casual fans realize how difficult it is to make any kind of postseason," Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said, pointing out regular season champs from all leagues who don't make the NCAA tournament automatically get an NIT spot. "There are really only 15 to 18 spots open for at-large consideration, so we're excited to be hosting a game against a good Georgia State team."
The Tigers finished tied for fifth in the ACC standings, and have decided 11 of their past 13 games by single-digits, with a 6-5 mark in those tightly contested affairs - just one season after closing the spring 1-10. No current Clemson player has been part of a postseason roster.
"This group of guys has bonded a lot more than last year's (13-18) team," junior guard Rod Hall said. "We all came together and decided we weren't going to be the group we were last year. We worked harder to make it happen."
This is Clemson's first NIT appearance since 2007, when led by K.C. Rivers the Tigers roared to the final game at Madison Square Garden in New York City. West Virginia won that game, 78-73.
Clemson has a track record of success at Littlejohn Coliseum in the NIT: a 9-3 mark, including a nine-game winning streak since 1982, beating the likes of Auburn, Georgia and Butler along the way.
"It's big for our fans and for Clemson, and we're happy to get to host a team here," junior forward K.J. McDaniels said. "I'm excited for the team and an opportunity to keep playing. We're looking forward to it."
Georgia State, which is 22-2 since Dec. 7, trucked its way to the Sun Belt Conference regular season title, going 17-1 - a five-game cushion over its next nearest competitor.
However, the Panthers were painfully denied the chance to dance, getting upset 82-81 in overtime by Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt tournament title game, sending the Ragin' Cajuns to the NCAA bracket and forcing Georgia State to settle for its second NIT berth (first since 2002).
Clemson is 4-0 all-time against the Panthers, last meeting in 2006-07. All four of those games were at Littlejohn.
Georgia State's football team visits Death Valley on Nov. 22 this fall, as the Tigers' tuneup for hosting South Carolina.
If Clemson basketball beats Georgia State on Tuesday, it would advance to play either No. 2 Illinois or No. 7 Boston University. Because Illinois' State Farm Center is undergoing renovations, a Clemson official confirmed Sunday the Tigers would host that second-rounder regardless of the opponent.
St. John's is the No. 1 seed in Clemson's quarter of the NIT bracket. Other top seeds are Florida State (the ACC's only other NIT berth), Minnesota and Southern Methodist, the top snub from NCAA selection.
On Feb. 8, when asked if he was interested in hosting an NIT game or games, Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said, "I believe this would be a year when we probably could do that."
Littlejohn Coliseum will be stripped down and rebuilt starting at the end of next season, casting doubt on whether the Tigers' home arena could accommodate NIT action in the spring of 2015.
Radakovich continued, "It'd be good for the program. Any time you can get in the postseason, that's a positive, especially if you've been away from the postseason for a couple of years."
After losing to Duke on Friday night in the ACC quarterfinals by one point, Clemson dropped to 3-7 against this year's NCAA tournament qualifiers.
Clemson is 2-2 against fellow NIT participants, splitting a pair of games with FSU and beating Davidson while losing to Arkansas.
All-time in the NIT, Clemson is 15-14 with two runs to the championship game, both losses. The Tigers fell, 61-60, to Cal in the 1999 title matchup.
Tickets are available online at ClemsonTigers.com, by calling 1-800-CLEMSON, or at the athletic ticket office between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. Adult tickets cost $10, kids 13-18 are $4, and kids 12 and under plus Clemson students with a valid ID are allowed in free. All seats are general admission.