By Will Vandervort.
With a little more than five minutes to go and Clemson in front by two points, Donte Grantham used a crossover dribble that gave him the shot he was looking for as the shot-clock wound down. His floater, just to the left of the key, appeared to be on its way to the basket, but it rimmed in and out of the cylinder, and center Landry Nnoko was unable to tip it back in.
On Rutgers ensuing possession, forward Kadeem Jack stepped back behind the three-point line at the top of the key and nailed his shot to give the Scarlet Knights the lead for good with 4:29 to play. That’s the kind of night it was for the Tigers and that’s the kind of season it has been so far this year as Rutgers downed them 69-64 at Littlejohn Coliseum as part of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge.
“It was a tough shot,” Grantham said. “I just have to get more shots up in the gym. I have to keep working hard. They are going to fall eventually.”
They were falling for the freshman in the first half as he made three of his first four shots, plus two free throws to score 8 of his 10 points. But what was working in the first half did not work in the second for him or his Clemson teammates, especially late.
The Tigers (4-3) were in control for much of the second half as they grabbed a 55-48 lead following a Jaron Blossomgame layup with 7:42 to play, but Rutgers’ Junior Etou banked a three-pointer off the glass to spark a 14-2 run that ended on a Etou layup for a 62-57 lead with 2:33 to go.
“That’s the way basketball is. A guy makes a shot or misses a shot and you go home either happy or sad and it is all on a shot,” Clemson head basketball coach Brad Brownell said. “I mean (Etou) banks in a three at the top when it is a critical possession for them. It that does not go in on a banked shot, it might change the whole momentum of the game.
“But it went in, you know. Then you have to react to that and you have to be better. We just have not been able to do that very well. We have not been able to completely believe we are going to execute what we need to on both ends and get it done.”
Etou finished the night with a game-high 20 points on 7 of 12 shooting. Point guard Myles Mack added 12 points and had eight assists with no turnovers.
“When he is playing well, he makes their team go,” Brownell said. “He is outstanding with the ball.”
Clemson was led by Damarcus Harrison’s 15 points as he connected on 6 of 11 shots. Rod Hall had 10 points to go along with his seven assists, while Blossomgame scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds. Nnoko finished with eight points and 10 rebounds.
But the story of the game was the Tigers inability to finish once again. Clemson has already had breakdowns and defensive lapses in the second half in losses to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb.
“It’s a learning process you go with through teams and it is painful right now,” Brownell said. “We as coaches are trying to figure it out as much as everybody else.”
The Tigers will take the next few days to figure it out before hosting Arkansas at 5 p.m. on Sunday. That game will be televised by ESPNU.