GREENSBORO, N.C. – In 1974, Dr. Henry J. Heimlich introduced to the world a life-saving technique that has since saved more than 50,000 lives in the United States. Unfortunately for the Clemson basketball team, there was no one available to perform it on the Tigers.
Up 12 points with 12 minutes to play, the Tigers went stone cold offensively and defensively as No. 8 seed Miami literally ran to a 66-63 victory over No. 9 Clemson in the opening game of the ACC Tournament Thursday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum to end all hopes for the Tigers of making the NCAA Tournament.
The way Clemson lost the lead left its players in an angry mood. For one of the few times this year, they were mad at the lack of effort and how the team as a whole seemed to succumb to the pressure.
“We had them on the ropes and they kept getting off,” said Clemson senior guard Shawan Robinson, who went a horrid 1-for-10 from the field and finished with three points. “We kept giving them gifts. …
“I think we just got tight. I just think we tightened up and we were afraid to lose.”
Even after giving up the lead, the Tigers had two shots to tie it in the final 20 seconds. But Cliff Hammonds missed a wild, ill-advised three-pointer from the left wing.
Then with a couple of seconds on the clock, Clemson guard Vernon Hamilton missed after getting a good look from the same spot. When it fell harmlessly to the floor, Hamilton just ducked his head in disbelief.
“As I released it, I thought like it was on line and was a good shot,” Hamilton said. “Unfortunately it didn’t drop. It was pretty heartbreaking because we led for pretty much the entire game and it shouldn’t have come down to that.”
When it was Miami’s turn to make the big shot, it did without hesitation.
Trailing 60-59 with under a minute to play, Hurricanes guard Guillermo Diaz, who scored nine points and had an assist in the final four minutes, drove the baseline and as the Clemson defense collapsed on him, he kicked it out to Denis Clemente, who calmly sank a three-pointer from the right corner with 50.9 seconds left.
Clemente, a freshman, has made just 24.1 percent of his 83 three-point attempts this season.
“Denny has been a streaky shooter this year, but the one thing about Denny is he has a lot of toughness,” Miami coach Frank Haith said. “He believes he can make plays. That’s good and bad. I knew he was going to shoot it. I know that’s how Denny plays and that he was going to take that shot.”
Conversely, Clemson couldn’t make anything. And maybe being “tight” had something to do with it. That might explain why the Tigers (18-12) shot 7-of-33 (21.2 percent) from the field after they had a 13-point lead, which was their biggest lead of the game, with 18:59 left to play.
“I think sometimes when you slow down, you don’t appear to be playing hard or sometimes that can be when you tighten,” Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said. “I don’t know why, but that’s when tightness shows itself sometimes. Maybe (Robinson) is right.”
There is strong evidence to back up Robinson’s statement. The Tigers missed countless uncontested shots from point-blank range. Clemson also had an incredible 24 offensive rebounds, but it literally was if there was a lid on the basket down the stretch.
“We were getting three or four opportunities there sometimes on the offensive glass and just didn’t get them to go in,” Purnell said. “A couple were in-and-out. … We just couldn’t get it to go in.
“I just felt like it was going to be one of those games like we’ve had this year where we had to defend to win.”
And that brings up the other area where Clemson didn’t perform.
It’s one thing to wilt under the pressure offensively, but it’s another to do it on the defensive end, which is exactly what happened. Time after time, the Hurricanes (16-14) broke free off a Clemson missed shot or turnover for an uncontested layup.
In all, 10 of the Hurricanes’ baskets in the second half came from two feet and in, including eight straight at one point.
And that alone is what upset Purnell the most.
“We gave up far too many baskets in transition throughout the course of the game, particularly in the second half,” he said. “They had 27 fast break points. …
“We learned a painful lesson here today. If you lose focus at all on the defensive end of the floor, teams can catch you, particularly a team that was as cold shooting as we were.”