The 17th-ranked Tigers were rolling right along. First they got out to a 16-0 start, then after back-to-back setbacks to North Carolina and Wake Forest, they reeled off three straight ACC wins to put themselves in position for a conference championship.
After back-to-back wins over Maryland and Georgia Tech, plus a 74-47 beat
down of Duke, Clemson was the talk of the country and was being considered
as a possible favorite in the NCAA Tournament and maybe a No. 2 seed.
"It seemed like we were having fun out there," Rivers said.
But somehow the fun stopped.
Clemson (23-8) has struggled to find its once vaunted defensive pressure
and stumbles into the NCAA Tournament with four losses in its last five
games, including Thursday's 86-81 loss to a Georgia Tech team that entered
the ACC Tournament with a 2-14 conference record.
"I'm sure everybody knows what it is, but we just have that I-don't-care
attitude," Rivers said. "Before, we played basketball and it seemed like
we were having fun out there. It doesn't seem like we are having that much
Of course losing isn't fun, and that is something this group of Tigers are
not accustomed too. This current slid is Clemson's worst since dropping
nine of 11 games during the 2006-'07 season. In fact, only Rivers, forward
Trevor Booker, center Raymond Sykes and forward David Potter were on that
Guys like Terrence Oglesby, Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant have never lost
more than two straight games in their Clemson careers, a streak they hope
continues in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"We have to find a way somewhere along the line to get that excitement
back," Rivers said. "We have to get our energy back and get our press back
to the way it used to be and make a run in this NCAA Tournament.
"It takes six games to win a national championship so we have to take it
one game at a time. And that starts next week."
But first Clemson has to sure up its defense. The Tigers pressure defense
has been virtually non-existent over the last five games.
Clemson is giving up 78.4 points a game over that period, including a
combined 182 points in the last two games alone. In those two games, Wake
Forest shot 59.6 percent from the field, while the Yellow Jackets made
55.7 percent of their field goals. Also in both of those games, Clemson
gave up more than 40 points in the paint.
Georgia Tech, who seemed to have had an endless line of layups and dunks,
scored 42 points in the paint and outscored the Tigers in transition,
"There were times during the game that we did not pressure the ball well,"
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "Our goal coming into this game was to
go 40 minutes of good pressure in the backcourt. We did not do that
consistently and when we scored 80 points again, it should have been
enough to win."
Added Booker, "If we play good Clemson basketball, I feel like it will be
tough to stop us, but we have not been doing that lately. We have to get
back to that and then we can get back on the winning side of things."
And if they don't - then Rivers' Clemson career is over.
"For me it is do or die," the senior said. "In general, it is for the
whole team. It is win or go home. We have to get back and find what it is
that got us going before."
Do or die
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