CLEMSON, S.C. — The Clemson men’s basketball team might have said it was motivated to play in the NIT, but its body language said something completely different.
The Tigers looked tired and emotionally drained in their first-round loss to Morehead State Wednesday at Littlejohn Coliseum. Their shots were short of the mark most of the night and at times the Eagles looked faster and more athletic than the homestanding Tigers.
It’s understandable why Clemson was tired. The Tigers put a lot into trying to convince the NCAA selection committee it deserved an at-large bid to the Big Dance. When they did not get it, it took a lot out of them.
The end result, a 68-64 loss to Morehead State.
“Probably a little (fatigue),” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “Monday was really a hard day, and we are not going to use that as an excuse. We got out played tonight and we lost to a team that deserved to win.”
The Tigers were the second No. 1 seed in the tournament to fall in the first round of the NIT. Rutgers, another No. 1 seed, lost to Hofstra on Tuesday night.
“Monday was hard and I thought we were getting past (the disappointment) and Tuesday was better and I thought today we were fine. It was hard. Monday was a hard day,” Brownell said.
Mark Freeman led Morehead State with a game-high 19 points. The Ohio Valley Conference’s Player of the Year made four clutch free throws in the final eight seconds to secure the win for the Eagles. Morehead State finished the night 15 of 16 from the free throw line.
Clemson was led by Chase Hunter’s 18 points.
The Tigers shot just 21 percent (6-28) from three-point range and were 8 of 14 from the foul line.
“Obviously, we missed free throws,” Brownell said. “This is one of the few games this year you could feel the pressure and they felt it and I could not get them to relax. I tried. But there was a clear struggle offensively.”
Hunter Tyson, playing in his last collegiate game, was 1-for-7 from behind the arc and scored just nine points. Brevin Galloway, who was also playing in his last game, made just 2 of 11 shots and was just 1-for-10 from behind the three-point line.
“I bet 13 or 14 of them were good shots,” Brownell said. “There were a few shots that we took that were quick. Some of our young guys took a couple in the first half when it was late. Yeah, you are open, but you are open for a reason. So, we got baited into a little bit of it. We took the bait a couple of times.
“But Brevin and Hunter, most nights, are going to make those. You don’t have to make many more. If you make five, we probably win the game.”
PJ Hall, who announced on Tuesday he was going to test the NBA draft waters, was 6-for-9 from the field and scored 13 points. However, the Eagles shut him out in the first half.
The Eagles (22-11) did not take their first lead until 4:37 mark on a Drew Thelwell three. That gave them a 55-54 lead at the time.
Morehead State closed out the first half on an 8-0 run, cutting what was a 15-point lead, 29-14, to two points. Freeman made a jump shot with four seconds to play to cut the Tigers lead to 34-32.
Clemson went the last 3:32 of the first half without a field goal.
Josh Beadle’s layup with 8:29 to go gave the Tigers a 29-14 lead. However, Clemson missed 10 of its last 11 shots and turned the ball over four times in the last 5:01 of the half.
Stat of the Game: PJ Hall had a career-high five blocks. His previous high was four against North Carolina back on Feb. 8.
Injury Update: Clemson guard Alex Hemenway did not play after having an emergency appendectomy last week. He was on the Tigers’ bench Wednesday night.
Player of the Game: Chase Hunter scored a team-high 18 points to lead the Tigers. He was 6-for-11 from the field.
Key Moment: With Clemson up two points, Drew Thelwell drained a three with 4:37 to go to give the Eagles their first lead of the might at 55-54.
Up Next: Clemson’s season comes to an end. The Tigers finish the year 23-11.
—photo by Jonathan Abercrombie / All Clemson Tigers