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Clemson Basketball

Late Clemson rally at No. 16 Louisville falls short in final seconds

February 16, 2019

The 3.5 seconds felt like a lifetime.

After Clemson found itself down one point with the ball at Miami with only 0.4 seconds left earlier in the week, the situation this time at Louisville was a bit more manageable.

With the Tigers down 56-55, Louisville inbounded the ball under its own basket where it was stolen by Marcquise Reed. Almost surprised once he got the ball in his hands, Reed put up a quick floater from five feet out.

Louisville’s Jordan Nwora was able to get a fingertip on the ball and alter the shot. The ball fell into John Newman’s hands, and he put up a quick shot that bounced off the back iron as he raced against the clock.

The basketball fell to the floor and every fan inside the KFC Yum! Center was stunned as No. 16 Louisville escaped Clemson 56-55. It was the third one-point loss in ACC play, and each loss felt almost more painful than the one before (although, nothing may top the N.C. State collapse).

“We fought our tails off there at the end,” Brad Brownell said after the loss.

This time, the collapse belonged to the Cardinals. After fans in that same arena dressed in all black saw their team relinquish a 23-point second-half lead to No. 1 Duke on Tuesday, a seven-point lead in the final minutes against Clemson was nothing to be comfortable about.

When Clemson (15-10, 5-7) was up 39-37, Louisville embarked on an 11-2 run which gave the Cardinals the lead for good. Louisville made three three-pointers during the stretch, the first from Steven Enoch, followed by Darius Perry, and finally, one from Christen Cunningham gave Louisville the 48-41 lead.

The Cardinals made six of their 19 three-point attempts but were 5-for-9 in the second half when they needed big shots the most. Cunningham led Louisville with a game-high 18 points.

When it seemed that Louisville had the game well in hand and would run away with it, Elijah Thomas took control. The big man inside scored six consecutive points for the Tigers to make it a 48-47 game. In just 21 minutes due to foul trouble, he gave Clemson its best performance of the day with seven rebounds and a team-high 15 points.

One of the most significant moments of the game came when Thomas found himself at the foul line with a chance to take the lead. He missed two consecutive free throws and Reed collected an offensive rebound and missed a layup. Jordan Nwora converted an and-one dunk on the ensuing possession to complete the devastating five-point swing.

Again, Louisville looked like it had the game all but wrapped up when the lead was up to eight points with 35 seconds remaining. Then, the Cardinals imploded. Again.

Clemson forced three steals in the final 30 seconds, Shelton Mitchell hit a jump shot and Reed made two consecutive three-pointers to pull the Tigers within one point. Reed had 13 points and 12 rebounds on the afternoon while Mitchell contributed 12 points.

Even though Louisville was the team that tried desperately to give the game away, it was Clemson giving the ball away that resulted in its undoing.

“The reason we didn’t win today was that we had too many turnovers,” Brownell added. “Our offensive execution was not where it needed to be.”

The Tigers may have outrebounded the Cardinals 42-29, but Clemson turned the ball over 19 times to Louisville’s 12. The Cardinals were able to convert just enough off of those wasted possessions to rebound from a devastating loss earlier in the week.

At least one team was able to.

As for the Tigers, this was a tough week to absorb with two back-to-back chances to win a close game in the closing seconds. Those 3.5 seconds at Louisville have embodied what this season has been like for Brownell’s group that started the season with such high expectations.

It has felt like it has lasted a lifetime with the ups and downs of losing streaks and winning streaks. 

If the ball bounces a little differently in games against N.C. State, Miami, and now Louisville, Clemson’s season is in entirely different shape with six games remaining. And it doesn’t get any easier with No. 17 Florida State coming to town.

But that’s life in the ACC. That’s reality. That’s basketball.

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