Despite the hectic schedule, which saw the Tigers play two games before the majority of this year’s field played once, Demontez Stitt insisted the early Wednesday morning travel from Dayton, Ohio to Tampa, Fla. didn’t play a deciding factor in Thursday afternoon’s loss at the St. Pete Times Forum.
“I don’t think we came out sluggish. I don’t think the travel thing really affected us too much,” Stitt said. “I just think, as a team, when teams make runs, you have to sustain and continue to play strong.
“When they made the run, I don’t think we handled it well.”
Still, with 1:49 left in the game, Clemson was firmly in the game. The Tigers trailed 74-71 after a pair of Tanner Smith free-throws made it a one possession game for the first time since the 16:06-mark.
Controversy soon followed.
Devin Booker was whistled for a foul six seconds later, though it appeared that Joe Mazzulla was trapped at half-court. The foul was followed by six-straight West Virginia points over a span of 30 seconds.
“If something goes different on that possession, we might be doing the interview second, instead of first,” Brownell said.
With the loss, Clemson finished the season at 22-12. West Virginia improved to 21-11 and will advance to the third round to play the winner of the Kentucky/Princeton game.
The defeat also brought a close to the careers of Stitt and Jerai Grant. The Clemson seniors qualified for the NCAA Tournament four times.
“It’s a big deal. I guess we’re players and don’t really realize it, being here so long, you’re used to going to the tournament,” said Stitt, who scored 16 points and handed out three assists. “For us seniors, we left our stamp on Clemson. I’m proud of it.”
Grant also scored in double-digits (13). Andre Young had a game-high 22 on 4-of-8 shooting from behind the 3-point line. Devin Booker scored 13 and also grabbed eight rebounds.
As a team, Clemson shot 43 percent from the field and 24 percent (5-of-21) from the perimeter. West Virginia went 49 percent from the field and 39 percent (5-of-13) from downtown.
The Mountaineers hit 25-of-31 free-throws and outscored the Tigers 20-9 on second chance points.
“They made free-throws when they got fouled. They were aggressive going to the boards,” Brownell said. “We seemed a little bit slow at the end in the second half. We didn’t respond like, maybe, we needed to. Maybe weren’t as competitive as we’ve been in certain situations. We didn’t lose the game because the game started at 12:15.”
Clemson started off quickly and led by 10 at one point in the first half.
John Flowers, the Big East’s second leading shot blocker, picked up two only fouls three minutes into the game.
At the game’s first timeout, West Virginia had made just 1-of-6 shots from the field. The Mountaineers went on to make 9-of-10 from the field over the following nine minutes.
A 10-4 run midway through the opening half cut Clemson’s lead to 24-20.
The Mountaineers then trailed by one with a 3-pointer from Jonnie West, but Stitt answered on the other end with a 3 of his own, bumping the lead to 27-23.
Young, who scored 10 points in the first half, picked up his second foul with 7:34 left in the first half and was forced to sit the rest of the period.
Milton Jennings’ streak of 16-straight free-throws without a miss ended with 2:13 left in the half. The first free-throw he took on that trip to the line, which he made, was the final Clemson basket of the half.
Kevin Jones’ 3-pointer as time expired on the first half capped a 9-0 West Virginia run in the final 2:13 of the period.
Less than a minute into the second half, West Virginia took a 42-40 lead and never looked back.
At one point, the Mountaineers had points on six-straight possessions on their way to building a double-digit.
“It is definitely frustrating,” Young said. “Most of all our losses have been losses with opportunities to win it and we just couldn’t get the job done.
“It happened again and it gets frustrating after a while. We just have to do better.”