CHARLOTTE — As one might expect, Clemson’s locker room following Wednesday’s loss to NC State was quiet and somber.
Just an hour before, that same locker room was enthusiastic and full of joy and energy as the Tigers built a 16-point lead at halftime. They made seven of their first eight three pointers in the first half and closed the first 20 minutes by scoring the last six points.
Clemson seemed destined for a sure win in Day 2 of the ACC Tournament at the Spectrum in Charlotte, N.C. Then the Wolfpack went on a furious rally to take a four-point lead late in the game. But the Tigers rallied and regained the lead on a Marcquise Reed three-pointer and an Elijah Thomas put-back with 3:26 to play.
However, Clemson went scoreless from there—the theme of the second half—and then watched as a questionable foul called on Clyde Trapp with 2.6 seconds to play, allowed NC State’s Markell Johnson, who missed on an off-balance jumper, to make two free throws, lifting the Wolfpack into the quarterfinals and into the NCAA Tournament with a 59-58 win.
“Just thought it was a tough, tough play for us,” Brownell said. “Very disappointed with the way the game was ended.”
Trapp refused to comment on the controversial call, which could keep Clemson from earning an NCAA bid. The Tigers will have to wait until Sunday to find out its post-season fate.
“We just feel bad for our seniors because everybody on our team did not want to see our seniors go out like that in their last ACC game. So, we tried to put it all out on the line,” Trapp said.
Clemson had two fouls to give in the final seconds and Brownell said they tried to foul Johnson before he drove the lane in those final seconds.
“We were trying to. It’s not as easy to get to a guy like that,” he said. “We obviously got to him four times, one with Eli (Thomas), I’m not sure, with maybe we did. But he just — he got away and made a play down the lane and got a very good call.”
The call did not sit well with the Tigers. No player would comment on the controversial foul in the locker room.
“No comment. We just lost the game,” Thomas said. “We played hard and they played hard. The chips did not fall on our end. They fell on theirs, so hats off to them.”
While they wait for Sunday, guard Shelton Mitchell said they cannot feel sorry for themselves. They have to pick themselves up and get ready for what is next.
“We just have to keep our heads up,” the senior said. “We fought hard. It did not go in our favor, but we fought. There is nothing we can do about it, just keep our heads high.”
Clemson (19-13) owned the fact they did not shoot the ball well in the second half. After making 52 percent of their shots in the opening 20 minutes, they went stone cold in the second half.
“We just didn’t execute like we should have in the second half,” Reed said. “That was it. It wasn’t nothing their defense did special.”
At one point, the Tigers missed 14 straight shots, which allowed NC State to go on a 20-2 run to take the lead, 57-53, with 4:20 to play in the game.
“It is basketball,” Mitchell said. “They made their run and we really did not make a run. Like I said, it is just basketball. They made a run and we did not stop it. They hit some tough shots and we did not hit a lot of shots.”
Clemson scored just 16 points in the second half and was 6 of 31 overall from the field. The Tigers made just 1-of-10 three-pointers in the second half after making 8 of 13 in the first 20 minutes.
“We just weren’t making shots,” Mitchell said. “We literally had the game in our hands up until the last possession so.”