CLEMSON - At some point in any given season, nearly every basketball coach in America will utter a statement striking similar to the following:
"If we can keep it close heading into the final 3-4 minutes, we'll have an opportunity to win. You can't ask for any more than that."
Not a phrase guaranteed to keep them out of the cliche Hall of Fame, mind you, but it points out a common - and very obvious - mindset:
Down the stretch of a close game, anything can happen.
At Clemson, close games have been the rule rather than the exception for each of the past two seasons. A year ago, five of Clemson's 17 losses came by a total of just 16 points. A fortuitous bounce here, a better decision there and the Tigers' 13-17 record could have been significantly better, and Larry Shyatt's standing as head coach may never have come into question.
Instead, Shyatt was allowed to come back for his fifth season - the final year of his original contract - and given a two-year extension, a move necessary for recruiting purposes.
This year it's been more of the same.
After a 9-0 non-conference start, the Tigers stumbled in the first trip through the ACC, going just 2-7 through the first nine. Sure enough, the anti-Shyatt sentiment returned and seemed to be at an all-time high, especially when Clemson lost to South Carolina earlier this month in Columbia.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the wake. Clemson beat North Carolina 80-77, then followed that up with a 73-64 win last Tuesday at Virginia. The victory marked just the third ACC road victory in Shyatt's tenure, and only the 59th (vs. 269 losses) in 50 years of league play.
Now, with five games to go, Tiger fans are scratching their collective heads as they try to decide which is the real Clemson basketball team:
- The one that dropped a two-point decision vs. North Carolina in Chapel Hill, lost (or had taken from them) a one-point game at Florida State, and fell by five at home to Marlyand;
- Or the team that beat Virginia by one, Georgia Tech by two, UNC in the return trip by three and polished off a sweep of the Cavaliers with a nine-point road victory.
Shyatt would like to believe it is the latter example, proving this team is finally learning how to win. And none too soon.
"We've been in so many close games," Shyatt said. "People often say 'Well, they even out at the end.' It seems like this team's played pretty even - close games with Cincinnati, South Carolina, North Carolina twice, Virginia twice...so many close games it's hard to remember them all.
"I think you develop a little confidence, first of all when you win some of those, obviously. But second of all you're practicing, you're in the trenches, you talking about being in position late in games, and you find yourself almost in (that) position every single game.
"Lately we've been pretty good in those situations."
One reason for the recent turnaround has been the ability to stay focused on the task at hand.
Shyatt's players have been able to maintain a remarkable sense of resiliency this season. It happens, he said, because of Clemson's ability to perfectly scout its most difficult opponent:
"One of the tough things is to not only find out who you are, but admit who you are and work hard at getting better," said Shyatt. "This team has always realized they're a heartbeat away from being a last-place team, and every magazine picked them there. They also realized they're a heartbeat away - or maybe a basket or two - from being better than good.
"That's really who we are, and I credit the guys for not only their focus but not allowing anything but good thoughts to enter their heads."
And, in an important upgrade from a year ago, the change has come in part because Clemson is much improved when it doesn't have the ball.
"(Last year) we were not a good defensive team. We were not a hard-nosed, good, tough 5-on-5 defensive team," said Shyatt. "From April on these guys have put in a lot of time. Our staff went out (and) visited with a lot of people. We compared the personnel we would have to play in the ACC...against some others, and we've devoted a lot of months to 'How can we guard? How can we put ourselves, in home and road games, in position to win with 3-4 minutes to go?'"
With five games to go, we watch and see if they can continue to find the right answers.
Upcoming ACC Games
Saturday, February 22
Florida State at Clemson
Edward Scott scored 32 points and pulled down eight rebounds as the Tigers won
their second-straight game 73-64 over Virginia ... Scott has scored in double figures in 20 of the Tigers’ 22 games, leads the team in scoring (17.7), assists (5.6) and became only the ninth player in league history to have 1,000 points, 500 assists and 400 rebounds in his career ... Scott has played 433 of a possible 440 minutes in 11 ACC games and over his last three games is averaging 26.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game and has hit on nine-of-15 from 3-point range ... Thomas Nagys is shooting .679 (19-28) from the floor in conference play ... Over his last three games FSU senior center Trevor Harvey has averaged 15.0 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting .633 (19-30) from the floor and raised his scoring average from 7.5 ppg to 8.5 ppg ... five of FSU’s 10 losses on the season have been by a total of 18 points, including two one-point decisions ... Tim Pickett has scored 20 or more points eight times this season and has 10 or more points in 21 FSU’s 23 games and leads the team in scoring (17.0) ... Todd Galloway is shooting .444 fromb
North Carolina at Maryland
North Carolina closed out its non-conference schedule and won for the third time in four games defeating visiting North Carolina A&T 93-57 Tuesday ... three of UNC’s
final five games are at home ... Jawad Williams has scored in double figures in 12 of his last 13 games, including three games with 20 or more points ... Williams is averaging a team-best 16.8 points per game in ACC play ... Maryland's Steve Blake has started 128 of his 130 career games and is 10th on the NCAA career assist list with 911 assists ... Blake is one of only two players in ACC history with 1,000
points, 800 assists and 400 rebounds ... the Terps have been ranked in 69 consecutive AP polls ... the Terps are the only ACC team with three road wins in league play.
NC State at Duke
State's Julius Hodge had 21 points and Marcus Melvin added 20 as NC State won its second-straight ACC game Tuesday defeating Florida State 71-60 ... State has now beaten the Seminoles nine straight times ... head coach Herb Sendek got his 123rd win at State, moving him past former Wake Forest coach Bones McKinney into 18th place on the ACC coaches’ career winning list ... Duke's Shelden Williams posted
his team-leading fourth double-double of the year with 13 points and 11 rebounds in Duke’s 75-70 win over Maryland Wednesday ... Williams also blocked a career-high six shots and over his last four games is averaging 12.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots ...
Sunday, February 23
Virginia at Wake Forest
Virginia's Travis Watson had a game-high 13 rebounds in Tuesday’s loss to Clemson
and extended his streak of having 10 or more rebounds to eight-straight games ... Watson is now 21st on the ACC’s all-time rebound list with 1,043 rebounds ... Watson leads the ACC in rebounding (10.8) and is tops among active ACC players with 51 career double-doubles ...Wake Forest is 3-3 against ranked teams ... Vytas Danelius has three double-doubles this season and five for his career and is averaging 13.8 ppg in league games and 11.5 in non-ACC contests ... Josh Howard has scored in double figures a leaguehigh 17 straight games and leads the ACC in scoring (19.1).
Tuesday, February 25
Clemson at Maryland
NC State at North Carolina