COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Clemson coach Brad Brownell is as disappointed as many fans are at his team’s late-season slide, yet believes there are reasons for hope next fall.
In early February, the Tigers (16-15) had won five of six Atlantic Coast Conference games and in the discussion of NCAA Tournament bubble teams. Things burst soon after that as Clemson went 2-7 down the stretch, knocking the team out of the mix of the NIT where it advanced to that’s tournament’s semifinals a season ago.
“In some ways some ways I think the wind went out of guys with that Notre Dame game,” Brownell said Tuesday of the Tigers 60-58 home loss to the ACC tournament champion Irish that was part of the slide to the finish.
Clemson held a 56-52 lead with four minutes left, but could not hold on. “If you win that game, you’ve got a chance to make the NCAA Tournament,” Brownell said.
He acknowledged the discontent over the final month, despite posting his fourth winning seasons in five years as coach. Brownwell said he, too, expected more down the stretch.
“Count me on that list as well,” he said. “But I think we all need to be mindful a little bit.”
Brownell said he sophomore Jaron Blossomgame and freshman Donte Grantham started every game this year and played, at times, like youngsters still finding their way.
Blossomgame was the team’s top scorer at 13.1 points a game and leading rebounder at 8.2 boards a contest. The 6-foot-8 Grantham averaged 8.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in his debut season.
“Those guys were kind of my cornerstones” alongside senior point guard Rod Hall and 6-10 Landry Nnoko, Brownell said.
The optimism over Clemson’s program a season ago was largely instilled by K.J. McDaniels, the all-ACC performer and league defensive player of the year who electrified fans with his high-flying dunk and blocks.
When McDaniels opted for the NBA draft - he plays for the Houston Rockets - instead of his senior year, it left a gap Clemson’s returnees couldn’t fully make up.
“Really, K.J. was the difference between last year’s team and this year’s team,” Brownell said.
Brownell is hopeful that Blossomgame and Grantham will develop more with another full offseason of weights, workouts and shooting sessions.
Clemson will also be breaking in a new point guard in San Francisco transfer Avry Holmes, who practiced with the team all season yet was ineligible until next season.
Holmes is bit more dynamic than Hall, but Brownell said he must grow his decision making to have an impact.
The Tigers also must spend next season in a temporary home with Littlejohn Coliseum undergoing a $63 million renovation. Clemson’s men’s and women’s teams will play at Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena next year before returning to campus for the 2016-17 season.
Brownell said he won’t use that obstacle as an excuse.
“Is it going to be tough not playing in our home arena and not having as much student support as we might? It will be tough,” Brownell said “But can we do it, absolutely, we can do it.”
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