Clemson’s men’s basketball team’s veteran leader took it upon himself to carry out what proved to be one last act of leadership in the face of difficult circumstances.
Like his coaches and the rest of his teammates, Hunter Tyson was admittedly stung by the selection committee’s decision to keep the Tigers out of the NCAA Tournament. But the graduate forward did his best to get everyone focused on the task at hand minutes before Clemson’s first-round National Invitation Tournament game against Morehead State inside Littlejohn Coliseum earlier this week.
“Obviously we’re heartbroken, and we wanted to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Tyson said, recalling his pregame message. “But to put things in perspective, go back to your 14-year-old self and think about what you would’ve done for this opportunity, to put this jersey on and play in front of this crowd. So don’t be selfish. You’re living out some people’s, so make the most of it and don’t take it for granted.
“I thought we had a good mentality, but we took our foot off the gas and they were a really good team.”
Clemson coach Brad Brownell also wasn’t interested in excuses following a loss that ended the Tigers’ season Wednesday.
Tyson and Brownell acknowledged the first 24 hours after Sunday’s selection show were difficult for the team given its third-place finish in the ACC and winning record against the first two quadrants. But Clemson led Morehead State by as many as 15 points in the first half, seemingly dispelling the notion of a hangover effect following what the Tigers believe was an NCAA Tournament snub.
“We’re not going to use that as an excuse,” Brownell said. “We got outplayed (Wednesday) and we lost to a team that deserved to win. But Monday was hard. I thought we were getting past it. Tuesday was better, and I thought (Wednesday) we were fine. But it was hard.”
MSU stormed back to trim the deficit to just two at the break, and Clemson found itself in a dogfight the rest of the way. The Tigers never led by more than seven in the second half on a night when it shot 41% from the field and made just six 3-pointers.
A 13-3 spurt for MSU down the stretch proved too much for Clemson to overcome. That gave the Eagles a seven-point lead with less than 2 minutes left, and the Tigers never caught up.
“The longer the game went, the more the pressure was felt,” Brownell said. “And we didn’t deliver.”
Brownell pointed the finger inward for what he felt like was not doing enough to help his team.
“We just haven’t done as good a job as we need to – and this is my responsibility – of offensive rebounding and being able to fight through some things when we had adversity shooting the basketball,” Brownell said. (“MSU) made enough plays and beat us. Disappointed for our players. Feel like I let our teams down.”
Ultimately, Brownell said he didn’t want Clemson’s quick postseason exit to take away from an otherwise solid season.
“I hate that our season ended this way, and I didn’t do a good enough job with this team (Wednesday),” Brownell said. “But I’m really proud of them. We came together and we got a lot of things accomplished.”