There was a point, right at the end of January, where I honestly thought the Clemson men’s basketball team was about to turn the corner.
And when I say “turn the corner” I don’t mean the Tigers were going to magically transform themselves into an NCAA Tournament team or find a fluid shooting touch to go with some pretty impressive defense.
I just felt that after recording back to back wins over Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, Brad Brownell’s team was headed for a winning season and maybe- just maybe – an NIT bid.
Following a 63-60 home win over the Yellow Jackets the Tigers were 12-8 overall and 4-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and looked every bit like a squad that was going to end the 2012-13 campaign a much improved one over the one that started back in November.
Of course it hasn’t turned out that way.
Clemson limps in to Coral Cables, Fla., today with a 13-16 overall record and 5-12 mark in the ACC.
Smart money – and even dumb money – will tell you that worksheet will probably read 13-17, 5-13 when its game with No. 6 Miami finishes up this afternoon.
Not that the Hurricanes are on a tear – they did lose to Georgia Tech at home on Wednesday – but the Tigers can’t seem to buy a win these days regardless of the venue.
Yeah, not having K.J. McDaniels in the lineup on Tuesday against Boston College hurt, but losing to the Eagles at home just shouldn’t have happened.
BC is a team that is younger than Clemson and has had it share of growing pains this year, but it found a way to beat the Tigers on Senior Night, handing Brownell and company their fifth consecutive loss and eighth in the last nine games.
Four of those came at Littlejohn Coliseum.
So what happened?
Brownell didn’t forget how to coach and his players didn’t forget how to play.
They just never figured out how to win with any consistency.
When a contest got down to cases there were too many players who simply didn’t want the responsibility to either close the deal or make something happen. Taking ownership of a game is learned behavior, and I think it was hard for some of these kids to learn how to lead when they were still trying to learn how to compete.
And then after a while – once the heartbreaking defeats started piling up – it got in their heads.
Milton Jennings has bemoaned Clemson’s penchant for starting out with great energy only to fall into an inexplicable lull.
Devin Booker shakes his head and wonders why the Tigers can seemingly make stop after stop until they need just one to win – and can’t do it.
And Brownell said on Tuesday this might be his most frustrating year as a head coach.
He’s quick to point out his young players have shown improvement in terms of maturity and skill, but he doesn’t deny the record suggests a tailspin.
Brownell is a good coach and Clemson has plenty of good players, but that combination wasn’t a successful one this season. Sure, there were a lot of close losses, but they were still losses.
Barring a miracle run in Greensboro, N.C., starting next Thursday, about the best that can be said about the 2012-13 edition of Tigers is that they played hard all the time – they just weren’t able to play winning basketball nearly enough times.