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Despite Improvement, Familiar Problems

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

January 27, 2003 CLEMSON — This is all you need to know about Clemson basketball, even with its recent competitiveness under embattled coach Larry Shyatt. While the Tigers were slopping through an ugly loss to Maryland on Jan. 25, a chant started in the student section: “We want Summers! We want Summers!” The words were aimed at hotshot prep running back Demetris Summers, who was sitting in the stands with his mother. At some other ACC schools, such scenes are funny little distractions. At Clemson, they often suggest bigger things.

The interest meter in Clemson basketball is starting to fall rapidly, and who can blame the fans? The Tigers, despite some improvements, are playing the same style they've always played under Shyatt — plodding and, sometimes, clueless. They are playing hard, very hard, but they are getting very little for their effort. Frustration seems a constant companion of Clemson basketball.

After the Tigers' impressive start, the Sports Journal told you this could happen, told you Clemson could return to its old ways. Well, it's happening. The good feelings created while feasting on a menu of junior varsity teams in December evaporated in Tallahassee on Jan. 21, then took another major hit against Maryland on Jan. 25.

Shyatt's (final?) ship again is taking on water, and there may be no way to bail fast enough to keep it afloat. Everyone knew the Tigers had some holes, but most of the teams they played in December weren't good enough to expose those holes.

The two major holes are the same ones that have haunted the Tigers for years, free throw shooting and perimeter shooting. They just don't have enough of either.

If they had made a decent percentage from the free throw line, the Tigers actually could have been 4-1 instead of 1-4 through their first five ACC games. At the same time, if Virginia had gotten the ball to the right shooter in the final seconds, the Tigers probably would not have beaten the Cavaliers at Littlejohn.

The highway robbery that occurred in Tallahassee gave Shyatt and Clemson fans something to complain about for a few days. Official Larry Rose took the game away from Clemson with a very late call under the basket, then the officials failed to call a foul when Edward Scott was run over after setting a screen on a well-conceived inbounds play.

Replays of the final seconds in Tallahassee showed that Rose didn't call the foul against Sharrod Ford until after the light had come on and the final horn had sounded. ACC officials wear a timing device that cuts off the clock when the whistle is blown. The clock was all zeroes when Rose blew his whistle.

Still, the bottom line remained: If Clemson had made some free throws and taken better care of the basketball, there would have been no controversy in Tallahassee. If the Tigers had converted more free throws against North Carolina, the streak in Chapel Hill would have ended at 48.

Clemson had 19 turnovers and missed eight free throws in the loss at Florida State. Three of those misses from the line came in the final 40 seconds. The Tigers also had 19 turnovers against Maryland. Shyatt explained away the 19 turnovers against the Terps by pointing out that Maryland had 20.

“We've got to look and see where we could have done better,” Shyatt said, “and you can pretty much lock into two areas (free throws and turnovers).”

There are no quick fixes. The Tigers have just one reliable point guard, and there's nobody on the team who looks really comfortable at the line. The one thing opponents want against Clemson is a close game. One, because the Tigers are so poor at the line, and two, because the Tigers just don't believe they can win a close game. Olu Babalola managed to make two free throws to beat Virginia, but most of the time the Tigers leave too many points on the line.

Chris Hobbs and Ray Henderson have been major disappointments. Both need to complain less and play harder. Hobbs continues to lead in the ACC in dumb fouls, and Henderson labors to get up and down the floor. Clemson's big men — Hobbs, Henderson, Ford and Tomas Nagys — made just two of 13 shots from the field against Maryland.

Scott led the Tigers in December, but he's starting to wear down. His recent performances have been erratic, and he has been putting up a lot of wild shots. Scott needs to calm down, play under control and be a better leader.

Clemson's offense in the clutch consists of watching Scott dribble until he decides to throw up a leaning one-hander in the lane. Scott's four turnovers late in the first half in the Maryland game fueled the Terps' comeback.

Shyatt Still Likes Team's Potential

After the mess in Tallahassee, Scott's frustration boiled over when he questioned Rose's guts for not making the charge call. But Scott's post-game performance after Florida State was nowhere near as good as Shyatt's after the loss to Maryland.

After watching his team make just four field goals in the second half, shoot 32 percent from the field for the game and give up 19 offensive boards, Shyatt said his message to his players was that they were a good team and that they were every bit as good as Maryland.

Shyatt also tried to console his squad by talking about several blowouts around the country. He told his team Kansas lost by 30 at home. (The Jayhawks actually lost by 17.) The message: We lost, but at least we didn't get blown out.

The Maryland game was hard and ugly. Both teams were more interested in playing defense than scoring. Maryland kicked Clemson on the boards and used a physical press to get back in the game late in the first half and a zone to put it away in the second half.

“We're 11-4!” Shyatt said, raising his voice in the post-game press conference. “But we don't act like it, and the people around us don't act like it.”

The reason there wasn't a lot of pride in Clemson's 11-4 record was that 10 of the victories were against lame competition. In a creative attempt to beef up his team's sagging RPI number, Shyatt petitioned the NCAA to label all of Clemson's December games in Anderson as neutral-site games. That request was denied.

Things have gotten so bad that Shyatt may be starting to see things. He said he truly believes he has an ACC contender. He didn't appear to be kidding.

“We're every bit as good as the team we played today,” he said after the Maryland game. Let's see. Maryland has better guards, better inside players and better freshmen. That kind of statement left lots of shaking heads and rolling eyes.

Shyatt's “a brighter day is coming” act, while admirable in many ways, is starting to run thin. If it hasn't happened by now, it isn't going to happen this season. Some insiders insist the NIT will be good enough for Shyatt to keep his job. Others say it's NCAA or bust.

“We played the way we needed to play to win,” Shyatt said after the Tigers' 47-point performance against Maryland. “We just need to play better on offense.”

The problem is, the Tigers have no offense and no shooters. Shyatt is boxed in, but he also has to remember that he built the box.

A .500 record in the ACC, one of the standard requirements for an NCAA bid, is now almost an impossibility for the Tigers. They missed their best chance for a road victory, at Tallahassee. Conference teams have gone to the NCAA at 7-9, but even if the Tigers somehow rallied to finish 7-9, their non-conference schedule would keep them out.