Clemson trailed N.C. State 78-75 in the final seconds on Jan. 11 at PNC Arena when Gabe DeVoe was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer.
DeVoe stepped to the free throw line with 0.2 seconds remaining, knowing that if Clemson was going to remain undefeated in ACC play, he would have to drill three free throws to send the game to overtime.
The senior calmly knocked down the first two with more than 17,000 N.C. State fans frantically waving and screaming in the crowd, hoping for a miss.
Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts called a timeout, and after speaking with his team, lifted his arms repeatedly, encouraging State fans to make more noise.
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DeVoe returned to the line after the timeout, and as he always does on free-throw attempts, spun the ball in his hands, dribbled twice and let it fly. Clank. DeVoe left the shot short. The final buzzer sounded, the crowd went into a frenzy and Clemson had lost its second game of the season and its first in ACC play.
“I had my hands over my eyes. I had my eyes closed. I was down in the seat,” Gaye Devoe, Gabe’s mother recalled of being in the stands. “It was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking as a mom to not see that shot go in, and I know it was heartbreaking for Gabe for that shot not to go in.”
There were those at the time who believed DeVoe’s missed free throw would be the start of a collapse by the Tigers.
Clemson has not been to the NCAA Tournament in seven years and struggled finishing out close games during a disappointing 2016-17 season.
When star Donte Grantham was lost for the year about a week later, the naysayers were even more vocal. But with March now here, the Tigers will be a part of the madness for the first time in a long time and DeVoe is a big reason why.
“I’m really proud of Gabe,” Tigers coach Brad Brownell said. “He certainly upped his play with Donte’s injury. I thought he was the guy that really took over in a lot of ways, not just making shots, but I thought leadership-wise he’s been very good.”
It happened before
When DeVoe’s free throw in Raleigh went off the rim, he immediately thought back to a similar, devastating moment from earlier in his basketball career.
DeVoe starred at Shelby High in North Carolina and led the Lions to the third round of the playoffs and a matchup with North Rowan during his senior season in 2014.
Shelby trailed by one when DeVoe was fouled with 0.5 seconds remaining. He made the first free throw to tie the game at 57, but his second shot was off the mark. The game went to overtime. The Lions lost. DeVoe’s high school career was suddenly over.
“I wanted to win a state championship, which I never got to do,” DeVoe said. “In those situations you want the ball in your hands. I just wasn’t able to knock it down.”
Gaye, who has only missed a handful of her son’s games since he started playing basketball at the age of 3, had just opened up a new company and was unable to attend the playoff game.
She was devastated when her husband Robert called and delivered the news that Gabe had scored 39 points but missed one big free throw.
“It was really, really hard because I had never missed a game,” she said.
Gabe was crushed by the way his high school career ended, but he also knew that he had plenty of basketball ahead of him.
The North Carolina AP Player of the Year had gone from a lightly recruited prospect early in high school to a player who received interest from several high-major programs, including Xavier, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.
DeVoe had signed with the Tigers in November of 2013, and after his high school career ended in disappointment, he quickly started training to be ready to contribute at Clemson as a freshman.
“After every high school game he played he never really came home and talked about the game. He talked about the next game. He always talked about moving on to the next game,” Gaye said. “In life you can never go back and change anything, but you can do better in the future. I think after that game he went to work.”
Despite his best efforts and a strong mindset, DeVoe’s college career did not get off to the start he was hoping for.
He appeared in only 19 games as a freshman, averaging 2.3 points per game. As a sophomore he played in 31 games but did not get a start. DeVoe scored five points per game that season, which was an improvement, but not at all what he envisioned when he decided to sign with Clemson.
To make matters worse, Clemson did not earn a postseason bid either season.
“My freshman year, coming from being the Gatorade North Carolina Player of the Year and averaging 34 points per game and playing the whole game to playing like four or five minutes a game, it was definitely frustrating,” DeVoe said. “Then we weren’t really winning as much, so there was a lot going on mentally. My first two years, people are in your ear telling you that you shouldn’t be there, you should leave, go somewhere else where you can play and things like that.”
Transferring certainly crossed DeVoe’s mind, and his parents told him that they would support him no matter what he chose to do. But they also had raised their son to finish what he started, and they hoped that he would remain at Clemson.
“I text him all the time just encouraging him… I’m always sending him inspirational quotes. I’ve done that throughout his whole career there, just to keep him encouraged, because it’s kind of hard when kids transition from high school and you are the superstar in high school,” Gaye said. “When you have a child and you care for that child and you raise that child, you know what’s inside that child. I’ve just always encouraged him because I know Gabe’s going to do great things. That’s just who he is. That’s what’s inside of him.”
TRUSTING THE PROCESS
DeVoe’s minutes and production increased as a junior as he made seven starts and averaged 7.1 points per game while helping the Tigers to the NIT.
He is now starring for Clemson as a senior and has started all 30 games, averaging 13 points, five rebounds and two assists.
DeVoe was recently named honorable mention All-ACC. He will get to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time later this month as the Tigers have locked up an at-large bid following this week’s ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I’m not surprised that he’s had a very good senior year. He’s been a hard working guy for a long time and he’s shown flashes of very good play,” Brownell said. “Just a little bit of consistency has always been the issue. Now as a senior, I think that he’s really embraced all that we’re asking him to do. And certainly he’s being rewarded for that.”
DeVoe is a big reason why Clemson finished 22-8 in the regular season and set a school record with 11 ACC wins.
He has scored in double figures 21 times this year, including 20 or more points five times.
“I’m really proud of Gabe and his development into an honorable mention all-league guy. He averaged 14 points a game in this league and obviously led us in scoring in several games, had some big shots, big games,” Brownell said. “I’m happy for him and all that he was able to accomplish from his freshman year to his senior year.”
DeVoe’s family has been there every step throughout his time at Clemson.
Gaye was crushed that she was unable to attend Gabe’s final high school game, but she was the first person he came to following the loss at N.C. State.
“I was just glad I was there this time, because I could tell he was under stress. I could tell by the look on his face when they came out of the locker room. I think that’s the tightest he’s ever hugged me in his life,” she said. “He just hugged me so tight and looked up at my eyes. He was just so disappointed. I was just glad I could be there as his mom just to really hold him and hug him and show him that it was going to be OK.”
Gaye sent her oldest son a text later that night before arriving home at 3:30 a.m.
It read: “I want you to know that free throw didn’t define the game or you.”
A few months later, as Clemson prepares for postseason play, that message has stuck with Gabe.
“It was definitely frustrating, but I wasn’t going to let one free throw define my season,” Gabe recently said.
Instead, Gabe’s senior season will be defined by the record-setting year the Tigers have had and the fact that he has been a major part of it.
DeVoe scored 25 points in a senior night win against Georgia Tech, including a 3-pointer with less than a minute remaining to seal the victory.
He had more than 50 family members and friends in the stands to offer support on Senior Day.
“I’m super close with my family, both of my parents and my younger brother (Jordan). It’s great just being able to, before every game, look up in the stands and see their faces up there,” Gabe said. “It’s a good feeling, a comforting feeling. I just love being able to see them at my games.”
His family will be in Brooklyn this week and wherever the Tigers play in the NCAA Tournament.
Gabe will also have plenty of support back home in Shelby, where most college basketball fans root for North Carolina or Duke and Gabe.
“He’s inspired so many kids in our area. He’s inspired a whole town. Everywhere I go in town and everywhere I walk in the city of Shelby, people stop me and ask me about Gabe,” Gaye said. “They might be North Carolina fans or Duke fans, but when Gabe plays they’re Gabe fans. He represents Shelby, North Carolina. He represents our city. The city loves Gabe and they’re rooting for him.”