Tigers Run Out of a Gas

NEW YORK – During Clemson's run toward the NIT title game, the Tigers shot well, played good defense and had the gas in their tank to put forth the energy and effort coach Oliver Purnell wanted. They just happened to run out of fuel at the wrong time.

The Tigers were fine in the beginning of the game and at the end, but it was the middle 20-some minutes that were lackluster as West Virginia took advantage and beat Clemson 78-73 Thursday night in the NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden.

"I wasn't happy with our aggressiveness all game long," Purnell said. "I thought we were aggressive at the beginning and at the end. I thought in the middle we weren't as aggressive defensively as we needed to be and without question they handled the (short) turnaround better. I don't think there's any question about that."

Clemson (25-11) was done in by the stellar 3-point shooting of the Mountaineers and its own inability to make its shots from long range.

West Virginia (27-9) was 12-of-20 from beyond the arc, while the Tigers were just 6-of-23. And three of those made hoops didn't come until the final 42 seconds.

That's the most 3-pointers made against Clemson this season.

"I've never seen guys one through five shoot a basketball like that all year long," Tigers senior guard Vernon Hamilton said.

The Mountaineers had five players make at least one 3-pointer, with guard Frank Young leading the way by going 6-of-7 from 3-point range. He finished with a game-high 24 points.

"I really think the story of the game was us giving up threes and them making the three," Purnell said. "Sixty percent for the game, that's the ballgame right there. Our game plan was to take those away. We didn't do that. We had a game plan that away and we didn't do it."

Conversely, Clemson's leading scorer, K.C. Rivers, was just 3-of-11, but was just 1-of-9 from that distance until the final minute. He still finished with 18 points.

Many of the problems were caused by West Virginia's employment of the 1-3-1 zone, which caused all sorts of problems for the Tigers. There always seemed to be in the face of their shooters.

"I was kind of in-and-out, not following through and fading back on my shot," Rivers said. "There were little kinks here and there."

Hamilton finished his career by scoring 16 points on 8-of-16 shooting.

Clemson dug itself it into a deep hole by allowing the Mountaineers to go on a 16-6 run over the final 7:57 of the first half as West Virginia held a 38-26 lead at intermission.

The major factors for the big lead by the Mountaineers were the fact that they were 8-of-14 from 3-point range and Clemson had 11 turnovers, which led to 13 West Virginia points.

Young was 4-of-5 from three for 12 points at halftime, while Clemson freshmen David Potter and A.J. Tyler combined to have five turnovers. Also not helping the Tigers was their 2-of-9 shooting from 3-point range.

Clemson also got beat soundly on the boards during the first half, giving up seven offensive rebounds that led to nine Mountaineer points. They Tigers had just two offensive rebounds which led to no points.

"We turned the ball over seven or eight times and they had 14 or 15 more shot attempts than we did during that stretch," Purnell said. "It's just really tough when a team has that many more shot attempts. …

"We didn't get to the offensive glass like I thought we could."

Now that the season has come to an end, Purnell had a quick moment to reflect on it.

"Well, I think we had a good year," he said. "We tied a school record for wins. We tied our school record for most consecutive wins to start a season. We were ranked many weeks in the top 25. Obviously we hit a very tough spot; yet this group hung in there to the point where we were playing some of our best basketball in the postseason.

"We advanced all the way to the final of the NIT. The kids had a great experience here in New York. By my definition of success, it was a successful season and I would certainly call it a good one."

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