By William Qualkinbush.
Often times in sports, the outcome of a game comes down to which team is more desperate to get a win.
In some games, neither team has much motivation. In others, both teams have a wealth of it. But generally speaking, one team will have the edge in that department.
Clemson had it against Syracuse on Saturday, and it didn’t in a 59-55 home loss to Florida State that seemed to suck some of the pleasure out of an exciting victory 53 hours prior.
It seems strange to think that a team with a 2-3 conference record would be the team lacking in incentive, but that was the reality facing a proud program from Tallahassee saddled with a three-game losing skid in league competition and in desperate need of a win.
“We didn’t want to go 1-5,” Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said. “When you dig that kind of a hole for yourself, it’s difficult to come out of it in the ACC.”
It was easy to see potential pitfalls—an emotional win in the most recent game, a quick turnaround, a team with length inside and physical defense ingrained deep within its DNA. Although both teams had to deal with it, the one-day break between games seemed to affect the Tigers more.
Clemson shot just 34 percent from the floor in one of its worst shooting performances of the season. The game included a nine-minute stretch without a field goal in the first half as the Seminoles built a double-digit lead.
The performance was exasperated by the inability to knock down free throws. Clemson more than doubled Florida State in attempts (31-14) but barely made half of its tries in the Tigers’ worst game of the season from the foul line.
Many of the team’s misses were short, an indication of tired legs. Some of the Tigers’ best shooters began to compensate, which compounded the problem to the opposite extreme. Clemson’s head coach called the free throw shooting woes “problematic” but stopped short of blaming fatigue.
“We thought we could drive it and probably get fouled,” a dejected Brad Brownell said. “We wanted to get to the free throw line.”
Meanwhile, the Seminoles—the third-worst foul shooting team in the ACC heading into Tuesday’s game—drilled 12 of their 14 attempts for an 84.7 percent showing. Their previous best was 75 percent at Notre Dame, when they shot only eight free throws.
“We didn’t play well enough,” Brownell said matter-of-factly. “The better team won tonight.”
In spite of a woeful shooting effort, the Tigers had a chance to steal a win, trimming the lead at a breakneck pace down the stretch. One possession saw three perimeter jump shots go begging in a span of 30 seconds. Hall went to the line with two shots and a chance to tie the game with 26 seconds left.
The senior missed the first one, a fitting end to a night defined more by clanks than by swishes.
Now Clemson can prepare for a somewhat desperate situation. The Tigers are 2-4 in ACC play and can ill afford a 1-2 home stretch against some of the league’s weaker teams.
“We’re going to get this done,” forward Donte Grantham said.
It will be easier said than done against a hungry Wake Forest squad that is 1-4 in the conference and is staring a 1-5 start in the face as North Carolina comes to town this week. Both teams will feel like they need the win, so it will be up to Brownell’s Tigers to establish themselves as the more desperate team—something they failed to do against the Seminoles on Monday.