CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson hoped to use its run to the NCAA Tournament last year during a pandemic-impacted season as a springboard to more success.
Instead, the Tigers are in the midst of a five-game losing streak — their longest since 2017 — with their chances of playing beyond next month's Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament diminishing each time they take the court.
Clemson (12-14, 4-11 ACC) is two games shy of the longest losing streak of coach Brad Brownell's 12 seasons set nine years ago. The Tigers play at Louisville (11-14, 5-10) on Saturday.
There's been little consistency to the Tigers' defeats.
There have been heartbreaking defeats for the Clemson, including a 79-77 loss at home to North Carolina last wee k and the 81-80 setback at Florida State Tuesday. The Tigers missed potential game-winning 3s in both losses.
There have also been games where Clemson was outmatched early on, falling behind double-digits in the opening halves of losses this month to Georgia Tech and Notre Dame.
“I hope people see that we're fighting and our kids are giving it what we've got right now,” Brownell said this week. “We're not playing great all the time, we're a little overmanned at times.”
Especially down low.
Clemson is led by 6-foot-10 sophomore PJ Hall, its top scorer at 16 points a game. The only size on the roster is little-used freshman Ben Middlebrooks, who's averaging less than four minutes an appearance.
“We have to do some things in recruiting to make sure that doesn't happen," Brownell said of getting pounded inside.
Entering the season, Brownell knew he needed solid scoring out of the backcourt to compete, but has not consistently happened.
Guard Al-Amir Dawes, who has started all but one game, is averaging 10.9 points a contest, up slightly from last year's nine-point average. His shooting percentage, though, has fallen from 43% in 2021 to 39% this season.
Nick Honor and Chase Hunter have split time starting at the other guard spot, yet neither has brought consistency to the court.
Dawes and Honor were a combined 2-of-14 shooting in an 82-64 loss to Duke last week. Hunter and Honor together were 1 of 13 (and 0 of 6 on threes) in the one-point loss to Florida State.
Clemson's guards are not playing how Brownell would like or “probably how they would like," the coach said after losing to the Seminoles.
“It’s not like we aren’t executing things," Brownell said. “We take a few bad shots, but a lot of times we’re executing reasonably well. We are just not making enough shots to be consistent to win.”
Clemson's losing streak began after starting forward Hunter Tyson broke his clavicle in a 75-69 win over Seminoles on Feb. 2. The 6-8 Tyson had surgery and is out at least a month, Brownell said.
Tyson remains third on the Tigers at 10.4 points a game.
Against Notre Dame last week, Clemson was without South Florida transfer David Collins, who had started the first 24 games. He was suspended a game by the ACC for a hard, flagrant 2 foul where he undercut Duke's Wendell Moore Jr. Moore had stolen the ball and leaped up for what was expecting to be an uncontested layup. Moore was not seriously hurt.
Alex Hemenway, Clemson's junior reserve guard, believes there's still time for Clemson to put the pieces together despite the challenges ahead.
“This is another speed bump along the way,” he said. “We've had a lot of them.”
Despite Clemson's struggles, Brownell's job does not appear to be in jeopardy.
He has a school-best 213 wins at Clemson. He's also has the most seasons with double-digit ACC victories (four) in school history. Brownell also received a contract extension through 2025-26 season this past October.
Clemson would owe Brownell $2.4 million if the school chose to let him go after April 30.
Clemson's new athletic director Graham Neff has been in the job just two months, although he's worked with Brownell for several years as an athletic administrator at the school. It's seems unlikely Neff would dismiss Brownell so early in his tenure as the AD.
“We are getting our lip bloodied some,” Brownell acknowledged. “But that makes you better.”
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