The Tigers' trip to lake-less Auburn left a sour taste going into a lengthy Christmas break.
After top-60 RPI losses at the hands of UMass and Arkansas, the 66-64 defeat Thursday was Clemson's worst by far (190), dropping their record to 8-1 against 100+ RPI teams. In those previous eight wins, they had averaged a 23-point margin of victory.
The ACC Tigers shot 44 percent from the field - not their best and not their worst, but outside of leading scorers K.J. McDaniels (18 points) and Rod Hall (16), they hit only 40 percent.
Auburn's two double-figure scorers were able to do just that, guards Chris Denson (19) and K.T. Harrell (14), against a still nation-leading 'D.'
A game of streaks at first - going down 10 over 10 minutes in, tied 34-34 at the half and up nine in the second half - then became a tooth-and-nail affair where Auburn sunk free throws and Clemson didn't get the looks.
"We were ready to play," fourth-year Tigers coach Brad Brownell said. "Our guys had pretty good practices. They were focused. I don't think we were aggressive enough in our plan initially. That was probably not as good as we wanted to do. We need to help our guys better with that defensively as a coaching staff.
"Credit Auburn. They have two really big wings that make good plays. Chris Denson is so fast. We played a couple possessions of zone, and we weren't very good at it. In hind sight, I would have liked to do a little more of that maybe. At the end of the game, it was just back and forth both teams playing. I was a little disappointed."
In an Alabama homecoming, McDaniels guided his team out of an early slump, but added just six points in the second half.
"They obviously double-teamed me," McDaniels said. "I should have tried harder to get open. Credit to Auburn, they played great defense. It was a tough loss."
Sophomore guard Jordan Roper says Auburn pushed them around.
"We weren't playing to their physicality," said Roper. "I think that hurt us early in the game. We got up a pretty good margin, but we just didn't bury them. It came back to haunt us. When you get into a one possession game on the road, things don't normally go your way."
Four factors: Clemson-Auburn
Now, Auburn's probably a little better than No. 190 in the country (losses Iowa State and Illinois a combined 18-2; Northwestern State has topped 90 points in five games this season), but the bottom-line for a team pegged 14-out-of-15 in the ACC, any good wins for the postseason resume will have to come in conference play.
Their best 'W' currently is Temple (120), with a strength of schedule ranked No. 298 overall. How much does that ratchet up in ACC action? They are projected to move to No. 74 by season's end.
Among conference peers so far, the Tigers are in the upper tier in scoring defense (No. 1, 53 PPG), field goal pct. 'D' (No. 1, .358), blocks (No. 1, 7.1), 3-point pct. defense (No. 1, .249) scoring margin (No. 2, 15.2), free throw percentage (No. 2, .769), rebound margin (No. 4, +7.9), offensive rebound pct. (No. 4, .384).
In the lower tier in: Scoring offense (No. 13, 68.2), field goal percentage (No. 14, .438), 3-point pct. (No. 11, .335), assists (No. 14, 11.8), steals (No. 12, 5.4), assist/turnover ratio (No. 10, 1.1), defensive rebounds pct. (No. 10, .701),
Clemson (8-3) finishes non-conference play hosting VMI (6-5) on Dec. 30. The Keydets boast the No. 5 scoring offense nationally (89.5) and the No. 343 defense (85.6).