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Clemson Basketball

Three Takeaways from Clemson's Sweet 16 matchup with Kansas

March 24, 2018
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CLEMSON -- And just like that, it was over.

Clemson cut a 20-point Kansas lead to four points and called a timeout with six seconds left. Kansas inbounded the ball down the court calmly and ran out the clock.

The buzzer sounded. Kansas won its third consecutive game in the Sweet 16, 80-76. Clemson’s historic season came to an end.

The Tigers could have folded, but that wouldn’t have been the characteristic we’ve seen all season from this team. Clemson clawed its way back with a ferocious comeback to get as close as four points but never any closer.

The Jayhawks seemed like they were about to run away from Clemson early in the second half when they built a 20-point lead several different times. Clemson was able to cut the lead to 15 or 13, but Kansas had plenty of answers of its own.

The Tigers could have folded, but that wouldn’t have been the characteristic we’ve seen all season from this team. Clemson clawed its way back with a ferocious comeback to get as close as four points but never any closer.

In a time of year where No.1 seeds seemed to have fallen every which way, the college basketball world thought Clemson was more than enough of a problem for the storied Jayhawks.

But Kansas had built too much of a cushion, and a stellar effort all around kept the always-present madness at a minimum.

The Jayhawks hit ten 3-pointers, made 6-of-9 in the second half, scored 12 points off 12 Clemson turnovers, and made clutch free throws down the stretch to keep Clemson from its magical comeback.

Brad Brownell and his team were conflicted as they walked off the floor for the final time this season. There was a feeling of admiration of the job they had done, the season they had.

There was also a thought of what could have been if a few things had gone Clemson’s way.

In the end, this season was everything Clemson fans could have asked for and more. 25 wins, third in the ACC, and a Sweet 16 appearance for the first time in 21 years.

Now, for the final time this season, here are our three takeaways from Clemson’s loss to Kansas in the Sweet 16:


Problem Child

Clemson’s matchup against Kansas may not have been a David vs. Goliath type of battle, but it sure felt like Udoka Azubuike was a giant in the paint wreaking havoc all game long.

Coming into the game, the number one matchup to watch was Kansas’ 7-foot sophomore against Elijah Thomas. If Thomas could limit Azubuike in the middle and manage to win his matchup, Clemson’s offense would open up more.

But Azubuike had his way with Clemson’s interior on both ends of the floor. The big man went at Thomas early and often, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 minutes in 25 minutes. If Thomas wasn’t guarding him, then whoever the defender was, whether it was Mark Donnal or Aamir Simms, was at his mercy.

© Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas' big man Udoka Azubuike was a force in the early going against Clemson in Omaha.

Coming into the game, the area Brownell felt Clemson had an advantage over Kansas in was the battle on the boards.

“The one thing they don’t do as well is rebound because they are playing smaller,” Brownell said leading up to the game. “They aren’t as dominant on the glass… They just aren’t as big, and strong, and physical by playing four perimeter players.”

You could tell the difference in Kansas’ team was night and day when Azubuike was on the floor.

On the other end, Azubuike’s length was just enough to make Clemson uncomfortable inside. The Tigers weren’t able to get much in the paint early as Kansas was once up 26-12 in points in the paint when Clemson had 27 points total.

Thomas looked frustrated inside, and that was evident to a game-changing flagrant one called on him in the final minute of the first half when Clemson was down eight. Thomas shoved a defender inside in the back of the head after a Marcquise Reed layup.

The Jayhawks made two free throws, and got the ball and calmly made Clemson pay for the mistake its big man made by drilling a 3 to get the 13-point halftime lead.

Coming off a knee-injury, Azubuike looked a little out of shape in the contest as he ran circles around Clemson’s defense. His activity and Clemson’s inability to match it was the biggest problem of the night.
 

Gabe DiVine

What a way to go out.

If Gabe DeVoe was going to go down in Omaha, Neb., he wasn’t about to go down without a fight.

In his final game as a Tiger, the senior guard scored a career-high 31 points to lead Clemson on what would have been the most remarkable comeback in recent history against Bill Self’s Kansas team.

DeVoe was the only player who played all 40 minutes, and he left everything he had on the court. At times, it felt as if he was the only one of the three elite guards who showed up.

© Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Clemson's Gabe DeVoe set a new career high scoring 31 points in his final game as a Tiger.

Clemson was going to need a dominant display from Shelton Mitchell, Reed, and DeVoe if it was going to overcomes Kansas’ talent level. But it’s safe to say Reed and Mitchell had better games throughout this season than the last one.

Mitchell scored 12 points but missed ten of his 13 shots, and Reed fouled out late with 13 points when his ability to be a playmaker could have been so vital for a Clemson victory.

Sure, those numbers were good enough to beat some pretty good teams out there. Not Kansas.

But boy, did DeVoe do his best to carry Clemson to Elite Eight status.

He made 10-of-17 shots, including three 3-pointers to lead Clemson. DeVoe was the 27th player in Clemson history to lead his team in scoring, rebound (9) and assists (3).

He made 10-of-17 shots, including three 3-pointers to lead Clemson. DeVoe was the 27th player in Clemson history to lead his team in scoring, rebound (9) and assists (3).

He was also the first player in Clemson’s history to score three back-to-back 20-point games in a row in the NCAA Tournament. Special.

It was a performance that almost summed up his entire career at Clemson. DeVoe put in the grunt work, had to maneuver around for the long haul as Clemson was out of its own building for 20 months, got better, matured, and waited his turn.

In his senior year, he stepped up when his team needed him most once Donte Grantham went down for the season. The toughness and confidence he had to fill that role and lead Clemson in its comeback was the grit that has come to define this program.

“I just tried in any way possible to give my team a chance to win at the end,” DeVoe said. “Really tried to rally the guys in the first half when we got down, just continued to fight. Made some big stops down the stretch, gave us a chance but we weren’t able to get over the hump.”

The man known as Bobby Buckets had nothing to hang his head about. It was a performance that left Clemson fans in awe and a reflection of what he has gone through, and done, for this program.

It was divine.

 

Gritty Comeback

We said last night there was no greater descriptor of Clemson's basketball team this season than the last 12 minutes of their loss in the Sweet 16 and it's still true today.

Three separate times Clemson got down by as many as 20 points and Kansas seemed like it was about to blow the roof off the place in front of a packed arena wearing blue.

We said last night there was no greater descriptor of Clemson's basketball team this season than the last 12 minutes of their loss in the Sweet 16 and it's still true today.

A magical March comeback seemed like it could potentially happen but Kansas stopped every one of Clemson's runs from becoming a threat.

But Clemson kept fighting, kept making a push until finally there was some life to work with down the stretch. The Tigers got within eight points before Mitchell stole an inbounds pass and threw down a dunk with an angry authority with 2:27 left. Clemson was back in it, despite all the mountains it had to climb throughout the game.

Clemson never got closer than four points but those final moments are what will define this team and this program.

Nobody believed the Tigers would come back just as nobody believed Clemson would finish third in the ACC after being picked to finish 13th. They managed to silence the doubt and have a pretty decent year.

Oh yeah, and their best player got hurt. Once Grantham went down for the season, surely this team's season would have been deflated. Even when Mitchell went down for a couple of games, Clemson rallied through the storm together to finish strong.

© Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Clemson's bench celebrates Shelton Mitchell's late-game dunk during the Tigers furious comeback effort.

After skating through San Diego with ease, anything after their first round of 16 appearances in 21 years was icing on the cake. Much deserved.

But the last 12 minutes, when Clemson was down 62-42 and clawed back, is the grit that will define its program for years to come.

"To be honest, it's grit," Grantham said with a towel over his head in the locker room. He had just been asked what he would remember most about his time at Clemson.

"Passion and perseverance towards a long-term goal. I mean, when I first got here, we really wasn't a good team, and every year we kept battling the mountain myself and trying to get better. Sometimes I would take two steps back and just continue to stay at it and believe in our team, and my last year, we finally got it together. Having grit is probably the most important thing I learned."

"We finally had some hard work pay off this year," DeVoe added. "It was a great run for us."

 
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