CLEMSON — Sometimes in a rough night, one play tells the story.
Trailing Florida State by 12 with 10:51 left, Clemson spent its third of four second half timeouts.
After Brad Brownell’s instruction, his Tigers passed the ball around the horn, and as the Littlejohn Coliseum crowd grew antsy, sophomore center Landry Nnoko was fed the ball in the paint. A Nnoko dribble — a Nnoko post-move, and without a shot, the shot-clock buzzer went off.
Clemson’s fortunes didn’t improve from there, dropping their home ACC opener, 56-41. Stretching over three seasons, it was the Seminoles’ fifth-straight win in the series.
Florida State (10-4, 1-1 ACC) hadn’t led in its first 45 minutes of ACC play, after getting routed wire-to-wire at home against Virginia last week. Thursday night, Clemson (10-4, 1-1) trailed the final 24:19, coming as close as two points, but shooting below 30 percent most of the night.
Junior swingman and leading scorer K.J. McDaniels was the lone bright spot in the off-offensive night, as the only Tiger in double-figures (14). Clemson’s double-figure averaging guard duo Rod Hall and Jordan Roper shot 4-for-14 combined, adding 10 points.
“It was a combination of everything,” Brownell said. “It was one of those nights when your best players don’t play great, you don’t get a lift off the bench from anybody to think everything is going to be good. Even though we were down five to seven points, it felt like more than that. It was hard to get the guys to believe that we were going to make a play and get something going.
“We just never made any.”
Their turnaround time? Less than 48 hours, meeting No 16 Duke (11-3) in the same arena at 2 p.m. Saturday. Brownell is hoping for the best, but knows it’s tough to judge a team with eight underclassmen and no seniors game-to-game.
“I don’t know (what to expect). That’s the million dollar question,” Brownell said. “If you have that (pulse), you would be a rich man as a coach. Hopefully our guys will be resilient. We’re not going to beat them down, but we certainly are going to point out mistakes and get ready for Duke and do the best we can to get our energy level back up.”
Both teams struggled to get off the mat early, resulting in an ugly first half.
Florida State missed its first five shots out of the gates, trailing 2-0 over four minutes in. Clemson, however, countered missing eight of their first 10. Turning Tiger turnovers into points, Florida State put some distance between the two early with a 13-2 run.
Crawling back with its only two first-half three-pointers, Clemson and then FSU went cold-er, shooting a combined 9-of-27 the rest of the half. Brownell’s bunch hit only 23 percent by themselves, committing eight turnovers.
“We just couldn’t find high-percentage shots,” longtime Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said, “but we didn’t panic and kept moving the ball and being patient. That’s what you have to do against a good defensive team like Clemson.
“Tonight out of respect of what we had seen them do to this point, we knew we had to stay with the gameplan and move the ball and get the best opportunities and that’s what our guys did.”
“We were shooting 23 percent and playing awful in the first half and had 16 points,” Brownell said, “but we were only down five. I was trying to get our guys to cheer up. Our youthfulness showed tonight.”
FSU’s decided advantage in points off the bench, 33-9, showed early in the second half when sophomore guard Devon Bookert scored the first six and eight of his 10 points to jump-start the Seminoles attack. After drawing within two with 19 to go, Clemson couldn’t narrow the game to two possessions in the final 15 minutes.
In the tough final tally, Clemson’s turnovers (18, season-high) exceeded their made shots (15), which didn’t happen even in the low point-mark of the Brownell era last season at Duke (68-40 loss; 13 turnovers, 15 field goals).
The Tigers, who carried the nation’s top scoring defense in, dropped their first game holding an opponent under 60 points or lower this season (10-1).
“I think that you have two really good defensive teams playing against each other and we just had a few less turnovers,” FSU’s Hamilton analyzed. “It was just one of those nights where sometimes the ball falls out of your hand. It’s just the way the game goes. You have those kind of nights, like we did against Virginia last weekend.
“I think they’ll bounce back, there’s no doubt about that.”