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Clemson men’s basketball looks to postseason: Tigers must overcome regular season struggles to keep hopes alive

Kim Montuoro, Photo Editor

How well a team overcomes adversity is the ultimate determinant for how it will perform when the stakes are at their highest. 

In the case of the Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team, adversity has been a defining factor of the season. From starting point guard Shelton Mitchell’s  ill-timed injury prior to the season’s start to the bevy of heart-wrenching losses suffered during conference play, the Tigers have been put to the test time and time again this season. As a result, their weather-worn exterior has only helped strengthen their core, priming Clemson for a surprising run in the ACC Tournament.

This season, the ACC has been perhaps as impressive as any conference has ever been, with 12 of its 15 teams standing decent chances of making it into the NCAA Tournament. This late in the season, that number of potential March Madness participants is beyond stellar and fully indicative of the reasoning that Clemson’s 6-12 record is not reflective of its quality of play over the course of the season.

Hurting the Tigers’ current March Madness chances is the fact that they have only accrued one victory over a top 25-ranked team this season, South Carolina. However, their six losses to ranked opponents by one or two possessions is proof of how close they have come to being one of the true powers of the ACC in this unpredictable season.

Speaking on his team’s up-and-down season after Saturday’s victory, Clemson Head Coach Brad Brownell told reporters, “This has been, obviously, a year where we’ve been punched in the gut several times and probably taken a couple standing eight counts, but we certainly haven’t given in.” 

From the hard-fought overtime loss to perennial-powerhouse North Carolina to the hard-fought last-second loss to fellow perennial-powerhouse Syracuse, the Tigers have run the gamut of heartbreak this year, featuring several near-upsets and bounce-back performances that have defined this resilient Clemson bunch. 

As a result, the odds stacked against the Tigers in becoming the second team to ever win five games in five days en route to winning a conference tournament are not as daunting as they may seem.

“I have confidence in our team. I think we’re a good team; I really do,” Brownell said when discussing the outlook for Clemson in the upcoming ACC Tournament. “I know our record isn’t what we would like it to be, and there are certainly a bunch of games that have come down to the wire and several that we haven’t been able to close out. But I think our team isn’t going to be in awe of anyone we play or not confident that we can’t play on a big stage.”

A unique team in terms of Brownell-coached Clemson squads, this season’s team has used its fast-paced offense and hot shot guard play with the veteran presence of the always reliable Jaron Blossomgame to create plenty of excitement. Though the trademark defense has been lacking at times, contributing to the subpar conference record, the Tigers have hung with several opponents in games that they were not necessarily supposed to win, and currently stand at 16-14 overall. 

Often performing well in games in which they were heavily outsized, such as their matchups against Florida State and North Carolina, the Tigers, who are lacking in terms of height, have fought to overcome the gaudy rebounding margin and come close to winning those matchups by way of their own unique style of basketball.

That unique style of basketball has Clemson poised and primed to turn heads in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn this week for the ACC Tournament, as the Tigers are looking to capitalize off of the momentum gained from their quality finish to the regular season. Brownell certainly is not of the opinion that a deep ACC Tournament run is out of the question for Clemson.

In his postgame press conference on Saturday, the head coach said, “It’s nice that we’ve won two this week and played pretty well the last five games of the year, and I hope that continues. I feel good about our team and am hopeful that we’ll play well at the right time.”

NC State, a team that the Tigers beat at home last week, serves as the Tigers’ first opponent in Brooklyn, and, if they collect that win, the 12th-seeded Tigers will face off against Duke, a team that they came within two points of upsetting on the road in February. 

All in all, the ACC has been the sport’s equivalent of a rollercoaster this season, and the Tigers could definitely benefit from that on a neutral court in Brooklyn.

For a 6-12 ACC team, the Tigers certainly are dangerous and should not, under any circumstances, be counted out of making some serious noise in

Brooklyn this week. Exceeding expectations is, after all, the Tigers’

calling card. 

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