Free Throws Prove Costly

CLEMSON – All that stood between Clemson and an upset victory over No. 15 N.C. State was 15 feet of open space, not once, but twice. A simple free throw and the Tigers are in the upper half of the ACC standings.

Clemson guard Cliff Hammonds stood at the line with 9.9 seconds left in regulation, but nearly shot an air ball, which allowed the Wolfpack to tie it and send it to overtime.

Then with 26.2 seconds remaining in overtime, Tigers forward Sam Perry missed both free throws and once again N.C. State tied to send it a second overtime, where the Wolfpack finally sealed it and took the 94-85 double-overtime victory Sunday afternoon in front of 8,600 at Littlejohn Coliseum.

"To miss two critical free throws is a bad feeling," Hammonds told "I just feel that I had a chance to end the game and I didn't get it done. At times like that, I've got to come through and I didn't. I let my teammates down."

Clemson drops to 14-6 overall and 3-4 in the ACC. It's hard not to look at this and the Duke game to what could be.

"It's a disappointing loss from that standpoint when it could have a lot of implications," Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said. "That's why it's disappointing not to get the job done with the game right there in your hands. If you win the game, you're in second place."

It was the second straight home game where the Tigers lost the game do to poor free throw shooting. They finished the game 21-of-37, which breaks down to 56.8 percent.

Amazingly enough, that's below their season average of 58.1 percent, which is third worst in the country out of 326 teams. Moreover, over their last four games, Clemson is a brutal 50-of-98.

Hammonds may be the most perplexing of them all. As a shooting guard, he entered the game shooting 44.4 percent from the line.

"There's no explanation for shooting 45 percent," he said. "Right now it's a lack of confidence when I go to the line."

Conversely, the Wolfpack (16-4, 5-2 ACC) converted 23-of-31 attempts from the line. They also made 15-of-29 three-point attempts.

"I think our guys understand how important it is to make plays and make clutch free throws," N.C. State coach Herb Sendek said. "At the end of the day, we had guys step and make the plays."

As has been the case all season, the reason Clemson was able to stay close was because of its defense. Despite the Wolfpack's 49 percent shooting from the field, they committed 21 turnovers, which resulted in 25 points for the Tigers.

Due to those turnovers, the Tigers battled back from a 10-point deficit in the second half to take a 71-69 lead, with Hammonds on the line with 9.9 seconds remaining. He made the first one, but badly missed the second.

The Wolfpack's Cameron Bennerman then drilled a three-pointer from the right wing with 2.4 seconds left to tie the game. A wild, half-court shot at the end by Clemson failed, sending it to overtime.

"He had a good look," said Clemson guard Vern Hamilton, who finished with 15 points. "It seemed like they got good looks all day. We just didn't do a good job of closing out on their shots."

In overtime, the Tigers led 79-78 with 26.2 seconds left and forward Sam Perry at the line. He promptly missed them both, setting up the Wolfpack's ability to determine the outcome.

"I was thinking about sealing the game," Perry said. "I felt good, it just didn't go down.

"Sometimes it can be contagious. Free throw shooting is a mental thing, but that's can't be an excuse."

N.C. State's Gavin Grant was fouled and went to the line with 7.0 seconds remaining, and after making the first to tie it, he missed the second, to give the Tigers a shot to win it.

But Hamilton struggled to gain control of the ball and was off balance all the way up the court and finally hoisted a wild three-pointer at the buzzer, which was no good to send it into double-overtime.

Once there, without the services of Akin Akingbala, who fouled out in the final minute of overtime, Clemson stood little chance. The Wolfpack made their free throws and big shots to win going away. They had five players score at least 12 points each, with Ilian Evtimov leading the way with 22 points.

"We played hard and put ourselves in a position to win," Purnell said. "We made it hard on ourselves by not playing smarter."

Even though the Tigers trailed 38-34 at halftime, it had to feel pretty good it about its chances.

The Wolfpack were making their shots from the outside (7-of-14 on 3-pointers) and Clemson's leading scorer Hamilton had only one point.

The other reason they had to like their chances in the second half is because every possible call that could have gone either way went against the Tigers.

One explanation for Clemson's ability to stay within striking distance was because of the 10 points by guard Shawan Robinson. He finished with 22 to lead the Tigers.

Hamilton said this loss hurt more than the one against Duke because Clemson actually had a chance to ice the game. Perry echoed that sentiment.

"(Moral victories) aren't good enough," Perry said. "Obviously we're a great team. We had it in the bag on several occasions. Moral victories don't mean anything." Top Stories