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February 17, 2013

Familiar frustrations

Recap | Box score

CLEMSON -- Toward the end of his press conference Sunday night, Jim Larranaga complained about the unseasonably cold temperatures in Miami.

He was joking. A few moments later, the Miami coach rose from the podium, took a deep breath and said, "What a game."

Clemson isn't the exact opposite of Miami, because it hasn't been all bad for the Tigers this season. But crucial moments of this game showed us the stark contrast between a team that can do no wrong and a team that can do little right when a play or a break is needed to seal a big win.

"They're having one of those magical years where it seems something is going to happen for them to turn it their way," Brad Brownell said after watching the Hurricanes improve their ACC record to 12-0.

Brownell is far from being in position to joke about the weather or much of anything. His experience this season is the inverse of Larranaga's, because there have been so many positive showings that aren't rewarded with wins.

When Devin Booker and K.J. McDaniels collided on an attempt to follow a missed drive by Rod Hall and the clock struck zero, Clemson was staring at its fifth ACC loss by five points or less. They lost by 3 at Florida State on the buzzer-beating heave by Michael Snaer. A week ago, they lost by one to N.C. State on Scott Wood's 3 with a second left.

And on this night, they lost 45-43 after they were up four with a little more than a minute left. This familiar script included a storyline that seems permanently ingrained into Clemson's basketball culture: missed free throws. The Tigers were 4 of 11 from the line in the second half, including McDaniels' miss of the front end of a one-and-one opportunity with 1:12 on the clock. McDaniels made one of two with 54 seconds left.

Booker, with older brother Trevor in the building, scored 11 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in 36 minutes but also faltered from the line. He missed five of his eight attempts, with four of the misses in the final 7:29.

"The free throws at the end were a killer," Brownell said.

You can't expect to beat the No. 3 team in the country when you don't make your free throws, but there was more to it than that in this one. Clemson just can't seem to get many breaks, as evidenced by the large number of shots that rimmed out throughout the game.

Brownell said there were probably a half-dozen that seemed down but somehow popped out. He said the Tigers "really should've won the game by six or eight," and no one argued with him.

The Tigers also suffered from a tough call with 13 seconds left when Hall was called for a charge with Clemson down one. Brownell thought it was a block and said he's looking forward to watching the tape.

Freshman Jordan Roper continued to blossom as a dependable scorer. He put up a game-high 19 on 8-of-11 shooting while totaling four steals in 31 minutes, but he didn't get a bunch of help; Booker was the only other Clemson player in double figures. He, McDaniels and Milton Jennings combined to miss 29 of 36 shots.

"I missed shots I normally make," Booker said. "Most of them were going in and out. It wasn't (Miami); it was me. I wasn't hitting shots I normally make."

Booker thought the game was headed to overtime when he got his hands on Hall's miss at the end. But McDaniel had his hands on it too, and the ball sailed over the rim.

"Both of us got our hands on it," Booker said. "I guess we wanted it so bad."

Roper scored on a break to put the Tigers up 42-38 with two minutes left, and Clemson got a stop on the other end when a 3-pointer by Shane Larkin rimmed out. Rion Brown fouled McDaniels with two seconds left on the shot clock, but McDaniels couldn't make the front end.

Eleven seconds later, Brown scored and was fouled with McDaniels. He hit the free throw to make it 42-41.

Up two with the clock ticking under 40 seconds, Clemson misplayed a screen-and-roll to leave Kenny Kadji wide open at the top. Kadji had made 47 percent of his 3-pointers in conference play this season (18 of 38) but was 0 for 5 in this game. The big guy drained his last attempt, putting Miami up for good.

Larranaga was asked about what plays he drew up late and he responded: "It's one of those things where there's no plays. It's, 'Play basketball.'"

A growing list of wins leaves Larranaga confident that something will work out in those situations. The positive momentum creates a valuable, powerful sense of inevitability.

In Clemson's case, it's the other way around: a powerful sense of inevitability that what can go wrong will go wrong in close games.

And it's not much fun.

*** To chat with other Clemson fans about this article please visit The West Zone message board.

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