The Washington Post
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| ||The Tigers have struggled at guard and Vernon Hamilton was moved into the starting lineup Jan. 22. (AP) |
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page G10
How They Could Win It All
The Tigers demonstrated that they can win three straight ACC games by beating Maryland, Florida State and Virginia Tech late in the season (and jeopardizing the NCAA tournament hopes of the Terrapins and Hokies in the process). To win this weekend, Clemson would have to beat stiffer competition, which seems less likely, but the Tigers have a force in Sharrod Ford.
Ford scored 49 points in two games against the Terps, prompting Maryland Coach Gary Williams to say he is often overlooked in a conference that includes Wake Forest's Eric Williams, North Carolina's Sean May and Duke's Shelden Williams. Ford, a 6-foot-9 senior from Suitland, had three consecutive double-doubles between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1.
In mid-February, with an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament already out of the question, Clemson Coach Oliver Purnell found some positives with his young team.
Clemson appeared to overcome late-game struggles -- after losing four ACC games by six points or less it beat Maryland by four and Virginia Tech by two -- giving hope to pulling at least one upset at MCI Center.
"We've had a number of games kind of play out this way," Purnell said recently. "The positive is we're being competitive with most of the teams in this league, the negative is that we're not finishing off games. The reality is that we're very close."
How They Could Lose It All
In an interview early in the season, Clemson assistant Kevin Nickelberry said teams need to have "pros" to win in the ACC because of the level of competition faced each game. Clemson's problem is that outside of Sharrod Ford, the Tigers largely are composed of very young players, while the teams in the upper tier in the ACC feature numerous players who starred in the conference last season.
Roughly one-third of Clemson's scoring comes from four freshmen. Cliff Hammonds averages 30 minutes per game. The Cairo, Ga., native is one of the better freshmen in the conference. The young players have exuded a positive attitude throughout the season, telling reporters at the midway mark of the ACC schedule that they felt Clemson could have easily been 4-4 instead of 1-7. Freshman Sam Perry told the State (S.C.) that he was intent on helping to erase the "old Clemson attitude."
But energy and attitude cannot overcome youth. For the seventh consecutive season, the Tigers reached the midpoint of the ACC schedule with a 2-6 conference record or worse.
Clemson's weaknesses are too significant. The Tigers are among the worst shooting teams in the ACC, and conference opponents shoot nearly 50 percent against them. That combination likely will mean an early exit.
Some league coaches, Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg among them, believe this season's ACC might feature the finest assemblage of guards in any conference in recent memory. Clemson, however, does not possess comparable perimeter players.
Only some of the blame falls to Vernon Hamilton, who was moved into the starting lineup Jan. 22 because Shawan Robinson had been struggling. Last year as a freshman, Hamilton almost had as many turnovers as assists.
This year, turnovers also have been problematic. For example, Clemson had a chance to win its Jan. 15 game at Virginia Tech in the closing seconds. The play called for Hamilton to reverse the ball, in hopes of getting it into Sharrod Ford's hands. Hamilton's pass was intended for Robinson but stolen by Tech's Carlos Dixon, whose dunk in the final seconds gave the Hokies a 59-57 victory.
In truth, the entire back court has struggled. The trio of Hamilton, Cliff Hammonds and Robinson combined for 29 turnovers and 25 assists in the first four conference games. The guards' shooting has been poor. Their assist-to-turnover ratio ranks among the worst in the conference.
Clemson only has five upperclassmen on its roster. It shows, particularly in the back court.
One Shining ACC Moment
On March 8, 1996, Clemson coach Rick Barnes walked into the locker room at halftime of the Tigers' quarterfinal game against North Carolina knowing he had to get his team's attention. Clemson, which finished the regular season with a 7-9 ACC record, was in serious danger of not being invited to the NCAA tournament.
So Barnes wrote "NIT" on one side of the blackboard and "NCAA" on the other. As players left for the second half, Barnes made each player sign his name under which tournament he wanted to play in. Less than an hour later, sixth-seeded Clemson bolstered its NCAA tournament hopes with a dramatic 75-73 victory over the third-seeded Tar Heels. The win was Clemson's first over North Carolina in the ACC tournament.
North Carolina did not score in the final 5 minutes 56 seconds of the game. Clemson's Harold Jamison was double-teamed in the final seconds, so he flipped a pass near the basket to Greg Buckner, who converted the game-winning dunk with six-tenths of a second remaining.
It was a landmark victory for a Clemson team composed of seven freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors. Sweating out the unveiling of the NCAA field, Clemson's Bill Harder told the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer, "If we don't make the NCAA tournament, I'll die."
Clemson did make the NCAAs, earning a No. 8 seed.
ACC Tournament Section
• After 15 years, the Nation's Capital plays host to country's premier conference tournament.
• John Feinstein: In a glut of tournaments, this one still matters.
• Tournament info and records
• Bracket and schedule
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