Are you wondering how Clemson collapsed at UNC? Oliver Purnell says it was defense - or the lack of it.
Clemson came out on the wrong end of it, but UNC is racking up injuries though. Marcus Ginyard has a sprained right ankle to go along with his previously sprained left toe. They have a quick turnaround and a road trip to UVa, which might be the best road trip they could hope for: Virginia's frontcourt has been pathetic, and UVa's Sean Singletary is carrying far too much of his team's burden by himself. Actually, though, he might be carrying less than Hansbrough, who has been an absolute workhorse for UNC. And by the way, he might not be the most driven kid in his family. Virginia's best hope is that Hansbrough is worn out, which he has admitted to, and that they catch a tired and thin UNC team.And that could be the case after Sunday's epic game in Chapel Hill. Clemson is still on the rise. They have a nice core of talent and Oliver Purnell is a well-regarded coach and rightly so. But if Clemson seriously hopes to move into the upper echelon of the ACC, and to become a serious basketball power, they can't do what they did in in Chapel Hill on Sunday night.
Bad enough they can't hit free throws - and yes, that cost them - but it didn't cost them as much as stupidity did - or defense, as Purnell claims.
Clemson had that game. They were dominating UNC. The end of the streak was in their hands.
Three straight turnovers with the game in the balance ended that. Demontez Stitt could have probably still won the game when he went to the line with a two point lead and 36 seconds left, but being Clemson, naturally he missed the free throws. Quentin Thomas scored a layup with 2 seconds left, and 10 extra minutes wasn't enough to save the Tigers.
Clemson just collapsed. It happens sometimes. It's happened to Duke and to UNC, notably last spring against Georgetown. It's part of the greatness of basketball that it can happen in a damn big hurry.
But the reason it happened is because Clemson, quite frankly, doesn't yet have the guts to dare for greatness. It may be that they simply don't think they're capable of it, or that Purnell hasn't found the way to convince them that they can be as good as anyone else can. And we're not saying he never will. But it is depressingly familiar to see them fold in the clutch.
We'd like to see the entire conference be really, really good. Clemson had a chance to reach that standard, but they weren't up to it. Too bad.
Clemson does have two complaints they could make about the game, one probably legitimate, one less so. Late in the game, after a UNC score, Clemson rushed the ball upcourt. The officials stopped their progress and gave UNC a timeout, apparently saying they didn't realize UNC called for one.
If that's the case, it doesn't seem right. Clemson shouldn't be made to suffer for an official's mistake.
Clemson was also on the poor end of a sharp disparity in free throws, with UNC getting 36 to Clemson's seven. And to be fair, if Clemson had just hit them in regulation, they would have won. 14% just won't get it done for anyone.
For the season, UNC has shot 651 free throws to their opponents 368. Duke usually gets ripped for this, but the Devils have shot only 565 to their opponents 409.
Of UNC's 651, 252 of them were shot by Tyler Hansbrough, for 10.5 per game.
There are separate issues here. Let's be clear about this: Hansbrough is a magnificent college basketball player, and it's mostly because of sheer willpower because he doesn't bowl anyone over with his talent. It's his will to be great that makes him great.
He gets fouled a lot because he's relentless. No one can question his heart or his effort.
But given the comments a few years ago about Duke, when the perception was that Duke got all the calls...well, this is a pretty significant disparity. Where's the outrage now?
To follow this up, please understand: our position on this has always been that teams which are fundamentally sound and richly talented will almost always have this advantage in free throws. We don't buy the argument that it's unfair for UNC anymore than we bought it when the argument was against Duke. But it would be nice if the criticism was as vociferous now as it was then.
This game changed the race considerably. If Clemson had won, there would be a three-way tie for second, and Maryland would be coming into Cameron on Wednesday with a chance to make a strong move on second, and Duke would be 2 1/2 games in front. The game is on Coach K's birthday no less.
The intensity of that game won't lessen any, but if Maryland wins, they'll have third place to themselves, and a ticket to the tournament punched. Wins over UNC and Duke will pretty much guarantee it.
In addition to that, Maryland's schedule is all downhill from there. If they beat Duke, they have a reasonable chance of winning all the games remaining on their schedule: FSU, Miami, at Virginia Tech, at Wake Forest, Clemson at home, and Virginia at Virginia.
They'll almost certainly win between 10 and 13 ACC games, and that's unquestionably tournament worthy.
Maryland of course has had an impressive turnaround after a disastrous start, and no one, according to Mike DeCourcy, has had a bigger role in their revival than James Gist. Sounds about right.