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Tigers tournament hopes hinge on coming weeks

Kim Montuoro, Contributor

Clemson men’s basketball head coach Brad Brownell stands along the sideline of Littlejohn Coliseum. 

It was another heartbreaker on Wednesday for the Tigers. Miami and Clemson shot nearly identical on the floor, with Clemson going 23-for-55 and Miami 21-for-54. But with 0.4 seconds left in the game, Zach Johnson’s fadeaway-shot gave Miami the 1-point lead and eventual win over Clemson. To make matters worse, this probably wouldn’t sting so bad if the same thing hadn’t just happen in Raleigh against N.C. State.

Fast forward to Saturday, Clemson at No. 16 Louisville. The Tigers fought back from being down seven with 17 seconds left to get within a point of the Cardinals. With 3.5 seconds left, Marcquise Reed’s attempt to get a shot up was denied by Louisville’s Jordan Nwora, dropping Clemson to 5-7 in the ACC and 15-10 overall. Again, another heartbreaker.

It remains to be seen if Clemson will have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament this year. If so, that’d be a huge accomplishment considering they started the first half of ACC play 1-5. The reality of this question is going to come down to the rest of their season. Clemson stands at 15 wins right now, with six games left to play. Of those six games, two of the teams are ranked: Florida State (currently at No. 17) and UNC (currently No. 8). According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, it takes 20 wins to gain a 44% advantage of getting an NCAA bid. If this statistic holds true, Clemson will have to capitalize on the lower ranked teams they play in the next few weeks to get to 20 wins. There’s only a little bit of wiggle room in this stretch.

Another question that keeps coming up in discussions about the team’s offense is Clemson’s inability to hit clutch free throws when the game really depends on it. Has this significantly hurt them this season, specifically in conference play? Well, when you take a look at potential outcomes if free throws were made, their record could look a lot prettier. N.C. State is one of the most notable games that comes to mind. In the last minute of the game, Clemson’s best free throw shooter, Marquis Reed, went to the line and missed four foul shots in a row. That’s right, four in a row.

Basketball math isn’t that hard, so when you consider if all four of those would have gone in, Clemson would have won. Even if he had made three out of four, they’d have gone into overtime and would have had another five minutes to try and secure the win. At Louisville, Elijah Thomas missed two free throws late in the second half that would have given them a chance to tie the game and send it into overtime. This normally wouldn’t be a stand out issue if these games weren’t so close.

This Tuesday is a chance for Clemson to end their two game losing streak as they take on Florida State at home. This is a battle of two poor outside-shooting teams that typically play good defense. The game is going to stay at the rim, as we have consistently seen FSU keep their opponents from getting anywhere close to where they want to be. Thomas will be a key aspect for Clemson if he can hold his own on the both sides of the court. If Thomas does his job and the shooters are on top of their game, this could be a good night for the Tigers.

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