Let’s be honest, Clemson had no reason to be in position to win Sunday’s basketball game against Alabama. For much of the night, the Crimson Tide outplayed Clemson in their 51-50 victory at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville.
But when Donte Grantham drained a three-pointer from the top of the key with 2:16 to play, giving the Tigers a one-point lead, it seemed as if they were going to find a way to win the game.
However, that isn’t what happened. Still clinging to that same one-point lead, 50-49, nearly two minutes later, Clemson head coach Brad Brownell called a timeout with nine seconds left on the shot clock and 29 seconds left in the game. He wanted to make sure they got the ball into the hands of their best player and leading scorer, Jaron Blossomgame. He wanted to give Blossomgame an opportunity to make a play at the rim and possibly draw a foul as a worst case scenario.
All they had to do was inbound the pass. The play seemed like it was going to work. After the timeout, Blossomgame came open at the top and went to go get the basketball, but he, nor did Grantham, who was inbounding the ball, saw Alabama’s Shannon Hale.
The Alabama forward picked off the pass and slammed it home on the other end for what turned out to the game-winning basket with 25 seconds to go. Instead of stealing a game they should have lost, the Tigers were robbed of a victory.
“I obviously wish I hadn’t called (the timeout) and it led to that. That is easy to say. But in the same scenario we should have been able to execute the play and get it into Jaron,” Brownell said when asked if he had any second thoughts about calling the timeout. “We had just run a similar play and got it into him and he got fouled. So we are trying to get the ball into our best player at the free throw line or top of the key, with a chance to get to the rim and get fouled again or pass to the shooter in the corner.”
But none of that had a chance to develop. Instead Hale made a play and Clemson was left scrambling to try and find a way to win in the last 25 seconds.
“If that is covered, then Donte should throw it directly to the five-man around the basket, and I’m pretty sure when I go back and look at the film that will be open, but he panicked a little bit and give Shannon Hale credit for making a great play, and obviously it ended up being the difference,” Brownell said.
Clemson (6-3) still had an opportunity to win the game, but Avry Holmes jump shot from the right of the basket bounced off the back rim and Blossomgame’s attempt to tip it in bounced off the glass and then Landry Nnoko tipped it over the goal and out of bounds with three seconds to go.
“We were running a ball screen action again and trying to get Avry with the ball in the middle of the court making a read of whether the five-man would be open on a roll, or whether he might have a shooter behind him,” Brownell said in regards to Clemson’s final attempt to win the game. “He had the opportunity to be aggressive and make a play. I think if you look back at it, he probably had Donte open behind him for a wide open shot but he missed a 10 or 12-footer over on the side and we battled for it.
“We had three guys under there fighting for it. Obviously, that isn’t what cost us the game, those plays at the end are part of it, but we won’t sleep well for a while because of it. We will be thinking about this one in February.”
Brownell is right. This is one of those games that cam make or break a résumé should Clemson be afforded that opportunity in March. The Tigers just have to hope this game does not come back to haunt them when that time comes.
“This is another game that you had a chance to put away with good execution, and we didn’t execute very well. The long rebounds and inefficient offense at times really hurt us tonight,” Brownell said. “The way they were playing us tonight, this was a game where our guards needed to make a lot of shots. I won’t say they were being dared, but the way they were guarding the ball screens there was a lot of room to pull up for jump shots. They were never as aggressive or in the rhythm that they needed to be in to keep doing it.”
Clemson shot just 37.5 percent from the floor.
“You can understand it a little with Avry. He hasn’t played a whole lot for us yet. He is one of those guys that still wants to get everyone involved, but some games, the way they are playing him they are staying home on other things, so you have to keep taking that shot and be aggressive,” Brownell said. “Jordan (Roper) didn’t have his best game tonight, in terms of shooting. He did some good things distributing, but just didn’t shoot well tonight. I want them to stay aggressive, and we were trying to tell them that throughout the game but I guess it didn’t get through to them.”
The Tigers will host Presbyterian on Tuesday at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena beginning at 7 p.m.