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The Tiger

Men’s basketball looking to weather the storm in conference play

David Perez, Photo Editor

Head Coach Brad Brownell and the Tigers are looking to get back on track after a loss against Virginia.

This is not news to anyone who has paid attention to college basketball in any capacity over the last 15+ years, but it bears repeating when two of the top four, and four of the top 20 teams reside in the same conference. 

Further still, even the “mediocre” ACC teams can prove to be resilient matchups in any game. While the Clemson Tigers might have fallen into the category of “mediocre” in years past, the Tigers are experiencing a basketball renaissance this year thanks to a veteran core of players. 

The Tiger’s defense is one of the best in the country while also playing one of the toughest schedules of any team in the nation. The Clemson Tigers, currently ranked as the 18th best team in the country, had a rollercoaster of a week, including key victory over Notre Dame while falling to Virginia. Though the Tigers did defeat Notre Dame last Saturday, the team suffered a crushing loss as senior forward Donte Grantham will miss the remainder of the season due to a torn ACL he suffered during the game.

Clemson’s defense has been the calling card of the team all season, a trend which has not changed over the past week. This defense was a difference maker against Notre Dame, a game in which the Tigers never trailed, despite numerous comeback efforts by

the Irish. 

Clemson held Notre Dame to shooting percentages of 38.7 percent from the field and 25.8 percent from beyond the three-point line, both well below the Irish’s season averages. With 2:22 left in the game, holding on to a three-point lead, Clemson’s defense paved the way. 

In those last few minutes, Clemson held the Irish to 1-5 from the field, including a crucial stop under the basket as Notre Dame guard TJ Gibbs Jr. attempted a layup to cut Clemson’s lead to one. On the ensuing play, Aamir Simms, filling in for the injured Grantham, hit a three-pointer to put the game away, winning 67-58. Against No. 2 Virginia, a game in which the Tigers were thrashed 36-61, the defense actually held the Cavaliers below their season average of 69 points. The defense also produced 11 turnovers, which turned into transition points for Clemson. 

Offensively, the Tigers have had issues with cold streaks. The three-point shot has become a major facet in the offense recently, which has allowed the team to rally back from deficits and extend leads in games in which the shots are falling. 

Against North Carolina, for instance, the Tigers were able to shoot their way back into the game thanks to ball movement and hot hands. However, the team has recently become susceptible to settling for those jump shots when defenses grant the Tigers space or go under screens. While these shots are technically the “correct” shots to take when given space, the tendency to look for opportunities to shoot can become infectious, depriving the offense of easier shots closer to the basket. 

Once an opposing offense can tell that a team is settling for jumpers, that team becomes exponentially easier to defend. In order to really compete against the ACC elites, the offense will need to look to score inside the painted area first, which will then set up shots on the perimeter.

The most glaring example of the offense settling for jump shots occurred in the Tigers defeat at the hands of Virginia, the number one defensive unit in the country. For much of the first half of the game, the Tigers were scoring in varied and dynamic ways from all parts of the floor which lead to an early lead against the Cavaliers. 

Going into halftime with only a four-point deficit, the Tigers appeared to be in position to knock off the second-ranked team on their home floor. Unfortunately, the famed Virginia defense showed up in the second half as everything went wrong for the Tigers. Clemson scored only 13 points in the second half, while Virginia scored 34 points. For the game, the Tigers shot just 3-20 (15 percent) from three-point range, while from the field, the team shot a meager 15-47 (31.9 percent) and turned the ball over a season-high

19 times. 

The easy excuse for this performance is to cite Donte Grantham’s absence. Grantham was a bonafide veteran and the second-leading scorer on the team, while also providing valuable defense against multiple positions. Compounding the problem was the fact that the Tigers were walking into hostile territory against the second-best team in

the country. 

In truth, there were very few who thought that Clemson would have any chance to win. However, the team’s performance in the first 15 minutes of the game proved that, when running on all cylinders, the team has the skillset to compete with anyone, even without Grantham. 

The Tigers did not lose solely because of Grantham’s absences, though, as the veteran players that have brought the team to this point. Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell, and Gabe DeVoe shot a combined 0-9 from three and committed 10 of the team’s 19 turnovers. 

This performance is unlikely to be a precursor of things to come, but in the biggest games against the toughest opponents, Clemson will need its veterans to respond. 

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