Just when it seemed like Clemson’s men’s basketball team was building some momentum heading into the back half of its ACC slate, the Tigers were dealt a major blow with news that Hunter Tyson will be sidelined for an extended period of time.
Clemson notched its fourth Quadrant 2 victory of the season Wednesday with a home win over Florida State, but it came at a price. Tyson played just nine minutes before leaving the game during the latter stages of the first half after taking a blow to the upper body. He never returned, and an X-ray confirmed the Tigers’ senior forward sustained a broken clavicle.
In a statement released Thursday, Clemson said there’s not yet a timetable for Tyson’s return. So for the foreseeable future, the Tigers will be without not only their fourth-leading scorer (10.4 points) and third-leading rebounder (5.6) but also a veteran leader in the locker room.
“One of our smartest guys because he’s been in the program for four years,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said of Tyson. “He’s your voice. So you need some of your older guys to provide voice.”
Clemson (12-9, 4-6 ACC) has won two of its last three games by a combined 33 points. The Tigers came up three points short of upsetting No. 9 Duke on the road last week. Otherwise, they would be carrying a three-game winning streak into Saturday’s game at Georgia Tech (8-12, 2-8).
After that, Clemson will return to Littlejohn Coliseum for a key three-game homestand next week against North Carolina, Duke and Notre Dame, all of which sit in the top 70 of the NET rankings.
If the Tigers want to keep their momentum going in Tyson’s absence, they’re going to need others to help pick up the slack at his power forward spot, though Tyson was essentially a big guard on the floor with his ability to also step away from the basket on the offensive end. It sounds like Clemson may try to do that by committee.
“You’re going to need Naz (Bohannon) and Ian Schieffelin,” Brownell said. “My freshmen big guys are going to play more and are going to have to produce.”
Bohannon, the likeliest candidate to move into the starting lineup, performed well when pressed into his most extended action of the season Wednesday. The graduate transfer from Youngstown State stepped in for Tyson and played a season-high 30 minutes, finishing with 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting. Generously listed on Clemson’s roster at 6-foot-6, Bohannon is a couple of inches shorter than Tyson, but he also pulled down five boards in Wednesday’s win.
Those numbers far surpassed Bohannon’s season averages of 4.9 points and 3.9 rebounds in 18.9 minutes, but Wednesday’s performance was more on par with what Bohannon did at his previous stop. A 1,200-point scorer in four seasons at Youngstown State, Bohannon also led the Penguins in rebounding (8.2) a season ago.
“Rebounding is a want-to skill,” Bohannon said. “At that point, at 6-5 or whatever it is I am, I feel like my heart makes me bigger than a lot of guys out there.”
Schieffelin, a freshman, had played in 17 of Clemson’s first 20 games but had seen his minutes decrease of late. He didn’t play against Duke and logged just five minutes in the Tigers’ rout of Pittsburgh the game before.
But with Tyson out, the 6-7, 225-pounder played 10 minutes against FSU. It was just his third time playing double-digit minutes in Clemson’s previous 14 games, but Scheiffelin made the most of it, pulling down five boards to help the Tigers finish plus-13 on the glass.
Fellow big Ben Middlebrooks got just three minutes against the Seminoles, which is right at his season average (3.6). But his playing time figures to increase, too. The 6-10 freshman has spent most of his first season at Clemson as PJ Hall’s primary backup at center, but there’s a chance Brownell could play Hall and Middlebrooks together in Tyson’s absence depending on matchups and the team’s foul situation on any given night.
The facet of Tyson’s game that may be the most difficult for Clemson to replace is perimeter shooting. Tyson has helped the Tigers stretch defenses by shooting 38% from 3-point range on 64 attempts from beyond the arc. Schieffelin is just 3 of 6 from deep this season while the 3-ball is an even smaller part of the repertoire for Bohannon or Middlebrooks, who’ve combined to shoot one 3 all season.
The injury is the latest bout of tough luck for Tyson, who had played through two sprained ankles for most of the season before Wednesday. As a true senior, Tyson still has a COVID year he could use to return to the team next season if that’s something he wants to do even if he’s able to return to the court at some point this season.
For now, though, Brownell said the Tigers will need everyone to elevate their games in the absence of one of their better players.
“He’s basically healthy and ready to go, and then this happens,” Brownell said. “I feel awful for him, but the next man up’s got to go.”
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