Tigers’ center, head coach agreed his absence was the difference in the game
NEW YORK — Though he scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds, Clemson center Elijah Thomas said he was to blame for the Tigers’ 64-58 loss to top-ranked Virginia Friday in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
His head coach agreed.
After sitting for nearly six minutes, Thomas checked back in the game with 6:49 to play in the first half. At the time, Clemson had a 20-15 lead. One minute and 10 seconds later, with the game tied at 20, Thomas picked up his second foul and sat the rest of the half.
Clemson (23-9) scored just three points after that and missed their last 10 field goal attempts to end the half and trailed 32-23.
“Yeah, I think it was a combination,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “I think Eli not being in was a major factor because we have to be able to do some other things to throw the ball to the block because of the way they play.”
With Thomas not in the game, Virginia was able to prevent Clemson from swinging the ball around the perimeter the way it would like to. They bottled up the Tigers’ ball screens, contesting every shot guards Marcquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe put up.
Reed and DeVoe once again struggled to score against the Cavaliers (30-2). The two guards combined to shoot 2-for-15 from three-point range and 5-for-24 overall. Reed, who did not score until midway through the second half, finished with six points, while DeVoe had eight.
“You know, they really bottled up a lot of our ball screen stuff,” Brownell said. “They’re just so big, long, athletic, and there’s a lot of them, so they keep rotating guys. A lot of credit goes to them for how hard they play and how well they play, but we certainly needed to do a few things a little bit better with spacing and ball movement.
“But that stretch where we didn’t have Eli certainly made a difference.”
Clemson rallied in the second half to make things interesting, even cutting a 14-defecit to four points with 13 seconds to play. However, that left the Tigers wondering what could have been if Thomas had not gotten into early foul trouble.
“When I am in foul trouble, it is hard for our team to do the things we are accustomed to,” Thomas said. “That one is on me. I got in foul trouble. I tried to go for a ball and probably should have went up vertical and I would have been able to stay in the game and we would have been able to continue to make our run.
“I think the game would have got out of hand if we would have continued to do the things that we were doing before they went on that run.”