GREENSBORO, N.C. — Swingman K.J. McDaniels was back and better than ever for Clemson on Thursday, jamming and driving and leading the Tigers physically and emotionally in the opening round of the ACC Tournament.
Yet in a season of near misses, Clemson missed out in a chance to extend the 2012-13 campaign for another day.
Florida State, down by 10 at one point in the first half, dominated the final 20 minutes on the way to a 73-69 victory at Greensboro Coliseum. Clemson went almost 13 minutes without a field goal during the Seminoles’ surge, one that began in the first half and extended into the second.
McDaniels finished with 16 points and seven rebounds but his performance was lost in the shuffle of another Clemson loss, its seventh in a row and tenth in the last 11 outings.
The Tigers’ season ends at 13-18.
Florida State (18-14) meets North Carolina tonight at 7 p.m.
“Same situation really the last month of the season,” explained Clemson coach Brad Brownell. “We play pretty well for a good period of the game and then we go through a scoring drought. The game got away from us.”
McDaniels missed three games with an ankle sprain and played 24 minutes in the regular season finale against Miami. On this night the sophomore from Birmingham was the picture of health and appeared poised to lead his 11-seeded team to an upset of No. 6-seed FSU.
Everything changed after the break.
The Tigers held a 35-30 lead at halftime but Florida State erased it within five minutes, going in front 39-38 at 14:25 on a terrific putback by junior forward Okaro White, who finished with a game-high 24 points.
White was also fouled on the play and converted the free throw for a 40-38 Seminole edge, just their second of the contest.
That set the stage for another close, hard-fought battle between the rivals, whose two regular season games were settled by a combined eight points — both going Florida State’s way.
Terrance Shannon gave the ‘Noles their largest lead of the game at 7:04 when he went hard to the bucket and laid in a shot that made it 50-46, and at 6:18 he sank two foul shots to make it 52-46.
The advantage had grown to eight at 57-49 with 5:01 remaining, and the contest took on the look of one Clemson fans had seen many times before.
“I believe we fouled too much and put them at the free throw line,” McDaniels said. “We just didn’t finish our defensive possessions. We have to be more mature and execute better.”
White’s three 4:24 from the end handed the Seminoles a 60-49 lead and they never trailed again.
The Tigers did make it interesting in the final minute when Leonard Hamilton’s team started making mistake after mistake, allowing Clemson to pull within two after a Devin Booker 3-pointer capped off a 14-3 run.
FSU still managed to put it away from the free throw line as Michael Snaer hit two charity shots with :06 to go to seal the deal.
Clemson missed two dunks in the early going, with Rod Hall clanking one off the rim in an effort to deliver a slam and Jordan Roper also missing an opportunity to stuff in two points.
Still the Tigers managed to control the tempo during the first part of the contest. They led 14-9 with 11:48 to go in the first half and pulled ahead 17-10 just before the midway point of the opening period.
The lead got as high as 10 when McDaniels knocked down a three at the 7:47 mark, pushing the Tigers to a 26-16 advantage.
The edge reached 10 again at 34-24 following an emphatic McDaniels putback dunk with 3:16 left until intermission.
The Seminoles battled back, though, working the ball inside as Clemson’s shots started missing the mark after shooting better than 50 percent for much of the half. When the horn sounded Florida State had closed the gap to 35-30.
“We were very fortunate to be down by only five at the half,” Hamilton said. “In the second half I thought we executed much better. I thought our defense got the stops we needed, and got the rebounds. We played excellent basketball up until the last two minutes of the game.”
Entering Thursday’s clash the team that swept the regular seasons series between the rivals lost in the ACC Tournament.
Clemson took tourney victories in 1993 and 2001 after going oh-for-two in the regular season to FSU, and the ‘Noles returned the favor in 2007 after falling to the Tigers twice before their tourney showdown.
Jordan Roper topped Clemson scorers with 18 points and Booker added 11.
Milton Jennings, who added seven points and seven rebounds, said officiating had a bit to do with the outcome.
“The refs made it about them with fouls and stuff,” Jennings said. “I don’t really understand how you can step in front of people and use your chest and stuff all season but for some reason in the ACC Tournament they make such soft calls.”
Shannon and Devon Bookert helped out White with 12 points apiece and Snaer scored 10 for Florida State.
“I guess it feels good that we could have a big enough lead that we didn’t need an amazing shot just to win the game,” Snaer said. “I didn’t want that to come to that, if it did I would be ready but I didn’t want it to come to that.”