The defense of Clemson is ranked in the top five in the country. They proved it on Saturday night by physically beating up the Crimson Tide and winning an ugly game by the score of 64-56. The Tide fell to 3-2 on the season and Clemson improved to 5-0. The Tigers have beaten Maryland, Mississippi State, and now Alabama thus far.
Bama couldn't shoot, mostly because of the relentless defense of the orange Tigers. The Tide didn't make a three point basket until there were only 10 minutes left in the game, and coach Nate Oats’ teams have proven to live by the three and die by the three. Tonight his team was 3-22 from deep.
The Tide kept it close in the first half until around the nine minute mark when Clemson used a push to take a 12 point lead. Herb Jones kept his team close at the free throw line, of all places, and Bama somehow forged a tie at 30-30 before letting the Tigers score the final four points of the half.
Alabama made only 9-29 shots in the first, including 0-7 from deep. The only thing that kept them close was a surprising 12-13 performance from the free throw line. Clemson shot better, at 13-28 for 46% and 3-10 from deep, with 5-9 from the free throw line.
When the second half started the subpar ACC Network Plus feed faltered and the great Chris Stewart somehow continued to call the game off of game tracker (from Bryant Denny Stadium) and keep up with the action. The feed returned with about 14 minutes left. The toughness of Clemson continued to show through and they slugged their way to a 51-39 lead with 10 minutes left. Grad transfer Jordan Bruner finally made the Tide’s first three pointer, followed quickly by a John Petty long range shot to draw the score to 51-45. Petty was then fouled on another three point try and made all three freebies to cut the lead to 51-48 with 7:48 left. Jahvon Quinerly hit the Tide’s last three pointer with seven minutes left to take the lead at 55-54.
From that point forward the Tigers had a 10-0 run to put the game out of reach as the Tide threw up bricks, both from behind the arc, and from point blank range. Jaden Shackelford struggled all night and missed a couple of chances to keep the Tide in the game down the stretch.
It was nice to see the team battle all night and finally regain the lead, but the toughness of the Tigers won out. The Tide played hard but not very well. Bama lost the game primarily from behind the arc, but also the lack of toughness and inside game doomed them.
Alabama shot 8-27 in the second half with 3-15 from three, and 7-9 from the free throw line. The Tide finished 17-56 for a paltry 30% but 19-22 from the charity stripe. The team had 28 rebounds, only eight assists, 15 turnovers, one block and 17 big steals. Clemson was 14-29 in the second half with 2-9 from deep and 0-2 from the line. The Tigers ruled the boards with 43 rebounds, 12 on the offensive glass, had 13 assists, 21 turnovers, seven blocks, and eight steals. Overall a 27-57 shooting night for 47% was more than enough, with 5-19 from three and 5-11 from the line.
Individually Jones led the way with 17 points, keyed by 11-12 free throws, with four rebounds, two assists, and two turnovers. Petty was the only other Tide player in double digits with 10, despite 2-10 from the field and 1-5 from three. Petty also had four rebounds. Alex Reese led the team in rebounds with five in only 12 minutes of play. The team’s big four shot as follows: Jones 3-9, Petty 2-10, Quinerly 3-10, and Shackelford 2-8. They aren't going to win many games like that.
Oats said he felt like the team’s defense was good enough to win, but couldn't overcome the terrible shooting and lack of second chance points. Clemson won that battle 15-0. The coach went on the mention that Clemson has the nation’s sixth ranked defense for a reason, and they are a good, tough, hard playing team. Oats lamented that after taking the lead they gave up scores on three straight possessions to put the game out of reach. Offensively he feels like the team has to get better shots, and the coaching staff has to figure out how to make that happen for the players. Oats took time to offer a public apology to Coach K after his comments earlier this week, and said they had a nice phone call and the legendary coach was very gracious about the whole situation.
When the three point shots aren't falling the Tide doesn't have enough of an inside presence to make up for it. Clemson just bullied the Tide all over the court, and won ugly. It was reminiscent of Anthony Grant’s Alabama teams. This will be considered a “good” loss-if there is such a thing- because Clemson has a really good team that will have a nice season. Alabama needs to figure out how to cobble together some wins, because the schedule will not get any easier.
Next up is Furman on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. CT at home, on the SEC Network.