By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Thursday’s first-round game between Clemson and Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament was like watching the Tigers’ entire season replayed in 40 minutes of basketball that was both good and bad at times.
What started out with so much promise ended in bitter disappointment as Florida State wiped away a 10-point first half deficit and pulled away for a 73-69 victory at the Greensboro Coliseum. The loss was Clemson’s seventh straight to close the season and 10th in its last 11 games.
“It was the epitome of this season,” senior forward Milton Jennings said. “This team plays great for 36 minutes of the game every time, but there is always a stretch, four minutes, five minutes where it is like we gave up.
“We let them have offensive rebounds. We let them get and-ones, and we let them get stick backs. It’s just soft play and that was it.”
Clemson started the season with good wins over UTEP, Marist and South Carolina, and was 12-8 and 4-4 in the ACC after back-to-back wins over Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech by the end of January. Everything was in front of them and then it all went south.
The Tigers, which finished the year at 13-18, won one game after that. At times it was on the offense, stretches as Jennings mentioned where they could not buy a basket, much less make one. Other times, like in the second half against FSU Thursday night, the defense lost its intensity and gave up too many easy buckets or transition baskets.
“It was the same situation the last month of the season,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “We played pretty well for a good period of the game and then go through a scoring drought. Then the game gets away from us.”
In the first-round game against the Seminoles, Clemson grabbed leads of 10 points on three different occasions, 28-18, 30-20 and 34-24, in the first half, but a stretch of 12 minutes and 58 seconds with one field goal – the last 3:40 of the first half to the 10:42 mark of the second — allowed FSU to take a 43-41 lead.
The Seminoles (18-14) outscored Clemson 16-4 during that strecth.
“We came out and hit them right in the mouth like we were supposed to,” Jennings said. “I thought they weren’t ready and they thought they were going to run over us and I don’t know why. They won by one possession both times in all honesty and the third time we were kind of out of the game and made a run, but again, it was the same thing. It’s just how the season went.”
The Tigers fought back after FSU’s first run of the night, and had the game tied at 46 with 7:49 to play. But Florida State followed with a 14-3 run after that to take control of the game at 60-49 on a Okaro White three-pointer from the top of the key with 4:40 to go.
FSU led by as many as 14 points after that. White led all scorers with 24 points for the Seminoles, who will play third seeded North Carolina in the quarterfinals today at 9 p.m.
“In the second half, I thought we executed much better,” Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I thought our defense got the stops we needed, and got the rebounds.”
The Tigers rallied one more time like it has all year to cut the lead to two points. But in the end, after giving themselves hope again, Jennings, Rod Hall and Jordan Roper combined to miss four free throws in the final 45 seconds that could have got Clemson over the top, instead FSU made it’s free throws and left the Coliseum with a four-point win and its first three-game sweep of the Tigers in one season.
“It was a big point in the game, we have a young team, and myself, I missed one. If we make them we are in the game and we might have won it,” Jennings said.
Roper led the Tigers with 18 points, while K.J. McDaniels scored 16 and grabbed seven rebounds. Devin Booker ended his Clemson career with 11 points and three boards, while Jennings’ career came to a close with a seven-point and seven-rebound night.
“Obviously the fact that our guys are competing helps because we are going to practice every day and working at it and really trying,” Brownell said. “We just have some deficiencies that we have to improve. Until we do that this is going to be the outcome.
“I felt bad for our seniors, but unfortunately this scripit was seen many times this year if you followed our team.”