No. 5 seed Clemson made just 25 percent of its shots in the final 20 minutes, while No. 12 Villanova drained 64.7 percent to help erase a big lead and continue the trend of major upsets in Tampa with a 75-69 victory Friday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.
And even though it was a collective effort by the Tigers, who lost an 18-point lead and shot 25 percent over the final 20 minutes, including just 2-of-16 from 3-point range, senior Cliff Hammonds said the loss was completely his fault.
“That’s something that’s going to eat me for the rest of my life,” he said choking back tears. “I’m the so-called leader of the team and we didn’t come out in the second half ready to fight. That’s something I’m not going to be able to live down. …
“I’m just trying to figure out what happened and what I could’ve done to change it. … I don’t understand why I couldn’t come out and set the example by leaving everything on the court.”
And while Hammonds is devastated and disappointed, he by no means is solely to blame for the season-ending loss for the 22nd-ranked Tigers (24-10).
K.C. Rivers, the team’s leading scorer coming into the game, went 3-of-11 from beyond the arc, while Terrence Oglesby went 1-for-8. Hammonds went 0-for-6.
“Particularly late I thought we got some decent looks,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “Terrence on a couple of long rebounds got a couple that I thought for sure might go down. But, you know, sometimes those things can be contagious the other way.”
Conversely, Villanova (21-12) went 4-for-4 from long distance in the second half.
“We’ve been in this position before,” said Wildcats star guard Scottie Reynolds, who scored a game-high 21 points. “In this game we just wanted to be persistent, and just keep grinding it out and have the mentality that if they’re going to be us, man, it’s going to take 40 minutes.”
Even with the horrid outside shooting, the Tigers managed to tie it at 66-66 with 1:55 left to play. But more missed shots and a turnover doomed Clemson, while Villanova made 11-of-12 free throws from that point.
For the game, the Wildcats made 24-of-29 attempts, while Clemson sank just 14-of-23 from the free throw line.
Another aspect that the Tigers have used as an advantage all season is their play inside. But the duo of James Mays and Trevor Booker were almost null and void for the entire game.
Mays had just two shots, while Booker had only three. They combined for 10 points and 10 rebounds. Both fouled out of the game, as well, with Booker doing it with 6:44 left to play.
Clemson just couldn’t feed the post with the overplaying of Mays and Booker by the Wildcats.
“They were fronting the post and clogging the lane,” Booker said. “They did a pretty good job of not letting us get the ball. Then when I did, I got fouled and missed my free throws and that frustrated me even more.”
Frustration is the word Purnell used extensively in the interviews. And it was evident everywhere in the locker room as nearly every player had cried at some point.
“It’s over, man,” Mays said. “I just played my last college basketball game. Reality is setting in and it’s time to go into a whole new phase of life. It hurts. It hurts.”
However, for players like Booker, Oglesby and Rivers, this will be used as a learning experience to help them next year.
“I’m disappointed,” Booker said. “But it’s over with now. It’s time to hit the gym and hope we don’t have this feeling next year.”