Tigers searching for a closer

Close losses have Clemson looking for answers

02/07/2012 12:00 AM

02/06/2012 9:38 PM

The postseason conversation is starting, but at the midpoint of the ACC season, the Clemson men’s basketball team is only eavesdropping.

“Honestly, we’re six or seven possessions away from really being in that conversation right now,” senior guard Tanner Smith said.

Clemson (11-11, 3-5 ACC) has lost its conference games by an average margin of 3.6 points. The Tigers dropped two nail-biters last week, falling by four at Virginia and by two at Virginia Tech.

Clemson stands seventh in the ACC, tied with Maryland (13-9, 3-5), which will visit Littlejohn Coliseum tonight.

“I guess it’s an important game from a standpoint of whether we are going to move up or down,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “It’s more of just, it’s the next game, you want to win. … You just have a bad taste in your mouth of not winning a game. You want to feel what it’s like again to win.”

Brownell said even in tense, late-game situations, Clemson has effectively produced favorable shots. But in those close losses, the Tigers misfired on open jumpers and free throws.

Brownell said Clemson still is missing an aggressive closer. That could explain why the Tigers have earned their 11 wins by an average margin of 13.7 points but suffered their 11 losses by an average margin of 5.5.

“Sometimes seasons go this way, and there’s a reason,” Brownell said. “Sometimes you don’t have the guy that’s a finisher. That guy wins games for you. I’ve had seasons go both ways. I’ve had seasons where we’ve won eight out of 10 close games. I’ve had another season or two like this where we’ve lost some close games.”

Smith said Clemson opened the season with a small margin for error, and it will continue to shrink through the second half of league play.

“We watched the film of the Virginia Tech game,” Smith said. “Once again, we lose by one possession. You go through plays in the game. Every play we gave up, that was the possession that lost the game for us. That’s how we look at it.

“It can be very frustrating to watch. It’s tough to see that stuff sometimes, but I think it was good for our team to just continue to see how every possession is so important for us. We’re not going to be perfect, but there are some things that we can change and that we can prevent.”

Brownell said junior forward Milton Jennings has returned to the team and would be available for tonight’s game. Jennings was suspended on Jan. 30 for failure to comply with the team’s academic standards.

Jennings has been suspended for three games this season. He averaged 10.5 points and 6.2 rebounds in the six ACC games in which he appeared.

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