CLEMSON – Clemson stood toe to toe with No. 3 Miami on Sunday at Littlejohn Coliseum, hoping to stay in the fight long enough to have a puncher’s chance at the end.
Instead, the Hurricanes escaped with a 45-43 decision – giving the hosts another punch in the gut.
Many of the 8,998 fans will blame the refs for bad calls and no calls and the Tigers might blame themselves for poor shooting (17-of-56 from the field, 4-of-17 from 3-point range and 5-of-13 from the line). Either way Miami (21-3, 12-0 ACC) remains perfect in the Atlantic Coast Conference thanks to a paper-thin victory.
“I’m extremely proud of our players,” Tiger coach Brad Brownell said. “I thought we competed really hard and executed the game plan extremely well. We expected to win the game … we just didn’t execute the plays we needed to make.
“I don’t know how many shots we had that looked like they were going down. It was a great effort.”
For Clemson (13-12, 5-8 ACC) it was more heartbreak in a season in which close losses have become painfully common.
Brownell’s team led 43-41 with 54 seconds to go before Kenny Kadji drained a three with :36 showing on the clock to put the Hurricanes on top.
Rod Hall moved in for a potential tying-basket on the next possession but was whistled for a charge.
Miami’s Trey McKinney Jones made one of two foul shots at the other end but the Tigers still had plenty of time with eight ticks to go.
Instead a last-second Hall shot from close range was off the mark, and the putback by Devin Booker failed to fall, sealing the home team’s fate.
“It’s a positive game in that we played a great Miami team really well,” Brownell said. “But we expected to play them well. I look at it as a way of us being ready to play and executing a game plan that gives us a chance to win. If we had made free throws, we probably should’ve won by six or eight.”
Kadji was Miami’s only double figure scorer with 12 points but Durand Scott helped the cause with 11 rebounds.
“I thought it was a tremendous defensive battle,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “I’ve known Brad Brownell for a long time and every timeour teams have gone head to head it’s gone much like that.
It’s one of those games where it’s not pretty but it shows an awful lot of competitive sprit by both teams.
“Everything we could possibly do (to win) we did.”
The loss overshadowed another star-making performance by freshman guard Jordan Roper, who had a game-high 19 points.
“This is the same thing I felt the last time we lost,” Roper said. “I thought I played well but I wanted to win.”
Senior forward Devin Booker contributed 11 points and 10 boards and could do little more than shake his head in trying to explain his team’s near misses.
“Some of it’s mental, some of it’s physical. I really don’t know what to tell you,” Booker said. “It’s frustrating but you have to move on.”
The game couldn’t have started off much worse for the Tigers, who were one of 17 from the floor at 9:59 of the first half for a 5.9 shooting percentage. In fact they didn’t hit double figures until there was only 6:31 remaining left before intermission.
But what Clemson lacked in offense it made up for in defense, and the hosts made sure no Miami shot went uncontested.
By the end of the half the Hurricanes were on top – but only 18-16 – and Brownell’s team had 20 more minutes to try and pull off the day’s biggest upset.
They came close.
“(Miami) grinds it out to win games and somebody seems to make a play to win games,” Brownell said. They’re having a magical year where everything seems to go right.”