Clemson stops limping, starts sprinting in tourney

Tim Klobuchar

Baseball has an old saying that goes, “momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher.” Translated, the adage says that how a team performed yesterday has no relation to how it will perform today.
A similar line can be drawn between the end of the college basketball regular season and the start of the NCAA tournament.
Georgia and South Carolina headed into the tournament riding hot streaks, and both fell victim to upsets in the first round.
Then there are teams like the Clemson Tigers, who limped down the home stretch with a 2-5 record, but are suddenly playing well in the tournament.
Clemson fell to a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region, but beat No. 13 Miami of Ohio and No. 5 Tulsa to reach the Sweet Sixteen. The Tigers’ resurgence has set up a regional semifinal with No. 1 Minnesota on Thursday in San Antonio, Texas.
Clemson was one of the last teams from the ballyhooed Atlantic Coast Conference most people would have predicted to still be alive. Suddenly, though, they’re one of only two ACC teams left in the tournament, after early exits by Duke, Wake Forest, Maryland and Virginia.
Tigers senior guard Merl Code said the team lost its intensity near the end of the regular season, but rediscovered it at the most opportune time.
“We have been getting it back the last week and a half, ever since the loss to Maryland in the first round of the ACC tournament,” Code said. “We got together and talked individually about our problems. We know we can’t expect to just turn this switch on. We know it’s a one-game season. This is it for me.”
Clemson got off to a sizzling 16-1 start, and ascended to a No. 2 national ranking. Included in that run were victories over No. 5 Kentucky and No. 6 South Carolina. The Tigers finished the season with a 12-1 non-conference record, with its only loss coming to the Gophers. Minnesota beat Clemson 75-65 in the San Juan Shootout on Dec. 1.
But as many teams found out over the weekend, the regular season has little relevance now.
“They didn’t see us at our best,” Code said.
Clemson is playing much better now, and Coach Rick Barnes is hoping it can be one of the surprise teams of the tournament. A victory over the Gophers would certainly do that.
“I think we can play with the best teams in the country,” Barnes said before the Tigers’ opener with Miami of Ohio. “We do not have one guy who has had a career game this year. I think that can happen in this tournament. Some team is going to catch lightning in a bottle and make a run in the tournament. Our team is believing we have a chance (to win it all). I believe there are 15 or 20 teams who can go all the way.”
Clemson, like Minnesota, doesn’t have a superstar. Instead, the team gets wins with defense (the Tigers held Miami’s leading scorer Devin Davis to 13 points) and a flavor-of-the-week offense.
Forward Greg Buckner (15.4 points per game), guard Terrell McIntyre (13.3) and Code (10.8) all score in double figures.
Before the tournament no one would have thought that the ACC would have only two teams in the Sweet Sixteen, and no one would have thought that one of them would be Clemson. Insert your own you-never-know-because-it’s-March Madness explanation here. Here’s Buckner’s:
“We’ve been the higher seed and there have been some upsets,” he said. “But I don’t think we’re nervous at all.”