NEW YORK — Sometimes, timing is everything.
The last time Clemson faced top-ranked Virginia, its timing could not have been worse. The Tigers learned just two days earlier that their star player, senior Donte Grantham, was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee.
Not only were the Tigers trying to get over the mental hurdle of losing a player such as Grantham, who meant so much to their team from both an offensive and defensive standpoint, but they had two days to prep for the Cavaliers, who play the toughest defense in the country.
“Yeah, it was hard, no question,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said Thursday after No. 4 seed Clemson beat Boston College to advance to today’s semifinal game against Virginia in the ACC Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “But it’s going to be hard (today), I know that. I mean, they just make it hard. You’ve got to play exceptionally well. You’ve got to make plays.”
The Tigers (23-8) did not make any plays, especially in the second half, in their 61-36 loss to the Cavaliers back on Jan. 23. Clemson’s 36 points represented the lowest point total for a Clemson men’s basketball team since November 28, 1999 when Oregon State held Clemson to 35 points.
Clemson had its worst shooting performance of the season as well, making just 32 percent from the field. After taking a 23-16 lead with 6:26 to play in the first half, the Tigers scored just four points over the next 16 minutes and 18 seconds as Virginia grabbed control of the game.
The Cavaliers (29-2) engineered a back-breaking 36-6 run during a 19-minute and 39-second stretch.
“That was a very hard game for us to come back and play after losing one of our best players so I think we will be better tomorrow,” guard Marcquise Reed said.
Since that night in Charlottesville the Tigers have gone 7-4, and obviously learned to adjust to life without Grantham.
“I do think our team is in a better place,” Brownell said. “We were rolling when we had Donte Grantham. We felt like we were one of the better teams in the country, and had kind of proven some of that early on.
“We’ve had to adjust, specifically these two guys (Shelton Mitchell and Gabe DeVoe) and Marquise, they’ve had to adjust. There’s been a lot more responsibility in terms of scoring and different things falling on their shoulders.”
Brownell says they tweaked some things in their offense to try and take advantage of other situations where they were using Grantham in their offense.
“We’ve gotten better at that. We’ve got a couple guys, like Aamir (Simms) is better now than he was then. David Skara is a guy that’s continued to get minutes and gotten better,” he said. “Obviously a guy like A.J. Oliver played well today. But still, Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, Gabe DeVoe for us, those guys are the guys that have really led this team now that Donte has been out.”