Just days after Clemson failed to make the NCAA Tournament, they coupled that with a home loss in the NIT. The Tigers were a #1 seed in the nation's second-tier and oldest tournament. They suffered an upset loss to 4 seed and Ohio valley Conference member Morehead State, 68-64 at Littlejohn, Wednesday night.
Many that watched the game felt like the Tigers were flat and were growing through motions after missing the "Big Dance". For much of the season Clemson's success has been predicated on their outside shooting. On Wednesday night, the Tigers had a dismal shooting performance hitting just 6 of 28 attempts from three point range.
The rebounding margin was even, as Clemson a power 5 conference team failed to outrebound their mid-major counterpart. Morehead State was plus one in the turnover margin, they also shot 33% from deep compared to Clemson's 21% clip.
The game was tied at 55 with 3:56 left to play. Morehead then went on a 7-0 run to go up 62-55 with 1:33 left in the game, Alex Gross had 5 of the seven points for the Eagles in the stretch. The Tigers would cut the lead to 2 with just over 30 seconds left, but Morehead would hit four free throws in the closing seconds to ice the win at 68-64.
One of the surprising factors in the game was Morehead having more offensive balance and firepower than Clemson. The Tigers had just two players in double figures with Chase Hunter leading them with 18 and PJ Hall adding 13. Morehead State had four in double figures, Mark Freeman had a game high 19. Alex Gross added 16, Drew Thelwell and Kalil Thomas had 11 each.
Clemson got very little help from the rest of the squad. Ian Schieffelin, Hunter Tyson and Brevin Galloway had a total of 23 points between them on a combined 9 of 32 shooting.
The loss put a punctuation mark on a slumping finish to the season for Clemson. After starting ACC play 10-1 and leading the conference, Clemson finished 4-5 the rest of the way in the ACC. They were 5-7 in their final 12 games. Clemson fans are frustrated with the finish after what looked like it would be a NCAA Tournament season in prior to the late season swoon.
Clemson AD Graham Neff said prior to the NIT loss that Brad Brownell will be back next year. Brownell still has three years left on his deal and it looks like Tigers are staying the course with him. That's an interesting choice, as this year looks like it would be a good cycle for hiring a coach.
Several mid-major coaches are making headway including two in-state that look like they have power 5 potential. Those two are Bob Richey at Furman and Charleston's Pat Kelsey. Other mid-major coaches that could be on the radar for bigger jobs include Dusty May at Florida Atlantic, Paul Mills at Oral Roberts and Darian Devries at Drake.
Brownell has led the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament just three times in his 13 seasons at the helm. One of those appearances came in his 1st year, with Oliver Purnell's holdovers. The Tigers have made it past the 1st round just once in Brownell's tenure.