Strong finish provides optimism

Although Clemson lost its regular-season finale, falling to Florida State 80-72 on the road on Feb. 4, the Tigers still finished the season in impressive fashion, winning five of their last seven league games after a 3-6 start in ACC play.

The only teams to beat Clemson over the last month were No. 5 North Carolina and No. 22 Florida State, and that gives the Tigers (16-14, 8-8) confidence heading into the postseason.

Clemson is the No. 7 seed for the upcoming ACC Tournament at Philips Arena in Atlanta, where the Tigers will open against No. 10 seed Virginia Tech in the first round on March 8.

"I think we're in a good place," senior point guard Andre Young said. "But we need to continue to get better. We let our defense get away from us a little bit. We're a confident bunch offensively, we feel like we can make plays, but we need to get back to our defensive mindset."

To qualify for its school-record fifth straight NCAA Tournament bid, Clemson will need to win four games in four days in Atlanta, and that means starting with a win over Virginia Tech, an opponent that Clemson split with this season, each winning by a single basket on its home court.

History may be on the Tigers' side -- coach Brad Brownell has never lost a first-round game in nine conference tournaments as a head coach.

If Clemson wins, the Tigers will face No. 2 seed Duke in the quarterfinals. Should they come up short, the Tigers would appear to be a lock for some type of postseason bid, with the NIT looming as a strong possibility due to their .500 record in one of the nation's toughest conferences and a strong NIT history. Clemson has advanced to the NIT Championship Game twice since 1999.

MONDAY NOTES: Clemson seniors Andre Young and Tanner Smith are waging quite a battle between them to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in steals.

"They've given a lot to our team," coach Brad Brownell said.

And "taken" a lot, too. Young has 52 steals this season, one more than Smith. They rank first and second, respectively, in the ACC in steals per game. It's the first time Clemson has had the top two players in the ACC steals per game.

Young and Smith, who are roommates, also rank first and second on the team in scoring, assists, free-throw percentage, 3-point percentage and minutes played.

* Clemson, which has prided itself on defense and ranked among the league's best defensive teams in coach Brad Brownell's two seasons, had an uncharacteristic first half in an 80-72 loss at Florida State on March 4.

"It was an awful first half," Brownell said.

No kidding. The Tigers could do little to cool the Seminoles, who shot 64 percent in the first half and connected on 8-of-11 shots from 3-point range. It was the best shooting percentage by an opponent in Brownell's two seasons.

* The Tigers probably were glad to see that their first-round ACC Tournament game on March 8 is set for a 7 p.m. tipoff. These Tigers are night owls, preferring primetime games over noon games.

"I sensed that we didn't have an edge," coach Brad Brownell said after his team's 80-72 loss at Florida State on March 4. "We weren't ready to get after it and the early start was evident in our play. We haven't had a lot of these."

Clemson played only one other noon game this season -- on Jan. 28 against Wake Forest, but won that handily.

"I tried to remind our team every timeout about that, but I guess I didn't get their attention," Brownell said.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8-8 -- Clemson finished with a break-even record in Atlantic Coast Conference play this season, the school-record fifth consecutive season with a .500 record or better in league play.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Each timeout we'd try to chip away a little bit, but it was too big of a hole." -- Clemson senior G Andre Young on falling behind Florida State by 16 points in the first half on March 4. The Tigers rallied, but lost 80-72. Top Stories