Clemson Basketball: What we learned from the Pitt game

On Tuesday, the #20 Pittsburgh Panthers crushed the Clemson Tigers 76-43. They took a big lead from the start of the game and never looked back. It was the first of Clemson’s series of five road games in their next six contests. This tough loss to Pitt taught the country a lot about this Tiger team.

Pittsburg Panthers

Talib Zanna goes up for a basket against Clemson (Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA Today Sports)

They’re still young. The Clemson basketball team has no seniors on their roster and only 2 players who have been in the program for 3 years: Rod Hall and K.J. McDaniels. While they’ve had a remarkable run so far this season, they played like a scared young team against Panthers. Pitt went up by nine with an 11-2 start and the Tigers could never figure out how to recover. Even Coach Brad Brownell said after the game that his team “played like a young team that got a little nervous”.

They’re still learning. This young Tiger team still has so much left to learn, and they made a lot of rookie mistakes during their visit to the Peterson Events Center. The Tigers were plagued by turnovers, giving up the ball 14 times, which resulted in 24 points for the Panthers. Clemson got in foul trouble from the beginning of the game, which caused some of their key players, like McDaniels, to have to sit out early and play more cautiously.

Toward the end of the game, Brownell got so frustrated that he pulled out his starters and put in some bench players that rarely see action, like Austin Ajukwa. Coach did this hoping that the starters could see the game from a different point of view and trying to find some guys who would do things the right way. Instead, Ajukwa was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim after a dunk. Brownell was overheard screaming “We’re down by 40!” at Ajukwa.

They still don’t have a big man. The Tigers are still looking for their consistent big man who can post up, make some easy baskets and rule the paint defensively. Landry Nnoko, the 6-10 center, is their starting center and is beginning to develop as Clemson’s best post player. But Tuesday’s game showed that he is not yet there and Pitt took advantage of this weakness. Pitt had their big man step up to clog the lane and to stop the Tigers’ penetration, knowing that the Tigers could not get the ball to their post player.

They still don’t have an offense. Clemson has been talked about all season for their struggling offense, but Pitt really exposed the Tigers’ need for a consistent offense. They’re best offensive possession came during the very first possession and McDaniel’s easy layup. But the Tigers never could get anything going on offense, once Pitt took away their inside paint game and penetration. The Tigers were held to 32% field goal shooting, 21% from beyond the arc and only 50% from the free throw line.

Their defense is vulnerable. While the Tigers have one of the ACC’s most feared defenses, Pitt showed that it was vulnerable. The Panthers were able to put up 76 points on Clemson, the first ACC to put up more than 60 points on the Tigers. This is very troubling for Tiger fans considering, their defense is what they rely heavily on. But sometimes bad offense makes defense even tougher; bad shots and turnovers result in easy transition points for the other team, not allowing the defense to even get set.

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Pitt is the real deal. As awful as Clemson’s performance was Tuesday night, there are very few teams in the country that could have hung with the red-hot Panthers, especially at home. Where everything went wrong for the Clemson Tigers, it seemed that nothing could go wrong for the Panthers. Talib Zanna was 9 for 10 from the floor, and put up 22 points. Panthers shot 56% from the field and 53% from the arc. Pitt has a very talented team and if they continue to play like this for the rest season, they could be serious contenders in March.

Clemson played at their absolute worst on Tuesday, but they have a lot to learn and take away from this game. While this young team has shown so much promise this season, the country saw on Tuesday just how far they still have to go. The Tigers have 4 days to recover before they head up to UNC on Sunday as they look for their first ever win in Chapel Hill.

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