It’s the same old song and (postseason) dance for Clemson.
NIT or bust, baby.
If, that is, the nation’s oldest college basketball tournament sees fit to extend an invitation to the Tigers. Again.
Clemson has made more NIT appearances than any other ACC team, which is more of an indictment than a feather in the cap, but such is the result of being a football school in the nation’s top basketball league.
NIT bid No. 16 could be forthcoming, but would qualify only as a minor consolation prize for a team that harbored much loftier ambitions only six short weeks ago.
On Jan. 27, Coach Brad Brownell’s team was sitting pretty. The Tigers were 6-2 in the ACC, with victories over four ranked opponents, and appeared destined not only to be an NCAA Tournament shoo-in, but also the first team in Clemson history to win more than 10 games in league play.
But as the ACC schedule is wont to do, the early season success quickly turned into the long limp home.
The road proved extremely unkind to the Tigers, who went 2-4 away from the friendly confines of their temporary home at Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena, where they also dropped a pair of close games to Notre Dame and Virginia.
That left the Tigers with a 10-8 ACC record, which amounted to an overachievement in most eyes given their preseason prediction of a 12th-place league finish, but still left the team and its fans with an overriding sense of frustration, particularly given where the team stood midway through the league season.
Then came Wednesday night.
Plenty of nightmarish defeats comprise the Tigers’ historical ACC Tournament logbook, but one would be hard-pressed to readily recall a loss more gut-wrenching or disheartening than the one administered by Georgia Tech.
It was like a runaway train that you could see coming, but were unable to do anything to avoid.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Tech coach Brian Gregory said. “I feel bad for Brad, I really do.”
In short, the Tigers blew an 18-point lead in the final 8:27.
Essentially, everything unfolded perfectly for the Yellow Jackets over the last 8½ minutes.
They scored on 16 consecutive possessions.
The outrebounded Clemson by an astounding 17-2 margin.
They went to the free throw line 20 times, making 16.
Given Clemson’s postseason history, perhaps we should have expected such an end.
The Tigers have lost their first game of the ACC Tournament 47 times in 63 events, with close losses the norm, particularly of late.
In Clemson’s 10 tournament losses over the last decade, the average margin of defeat has been 3.4 points. In six of those losses, the Tigers were beaten by a lower-seeded team.
Tradition held true to form.