The Clemson Tigers Men’s Basketball team punched their ticket to the final four with a 73-68 victory over the Belmont Bruins this past week. No, it wasn’t “the” final four, but you couldn’t have made that assumption from the raucous crowd that filled Littlejohn Coliseum and the energy the fans brought to create what was an unbelievable atmosphere.
The Tigers did, however, punch their ticket to the final four of the National Invitational Tournament that will be played in one of the most historic venues in all of basketball; Madison Square Garden.
Clemson’s success this season may come as a surprise to many. Making it to the finals of the NIT was not the goal of this year’s team, but it is a feat not many expected for a team that was picked to finish next to last in their fifteen team conference.
The players and the Clemson faithful have taken complete advantage of the opportunity to play in a somewhat meaningful tournament and were awarded some good fortune that the path to New York had to go through Clemson, South Carolina; as long as the Tigers continued to win.
Their second round game against the higher seeded Illinois Fighting Illini should have been a road game had it not been for some renovations taking place at the State Farm Center in Champaign. The fans did their part and welcomed the Tigers to a sold-out Littlejohn Coliseum. Clemson also received some good fortune as the top team in their bracket, St. Johns, fell in their opening round game to Robert Morris.
The team, fans, and coaching staff have longed for Clemson to again be involved in post-season play and they have not let the opportunity pass them by. The Tigers have not played in the post-season since the 2010-2011 campaign, where they were invited to the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers got past UAB in the first-four game, but fell to West Virginia in the round of 64.
Since that year the Tigers haven’t won more than sixteen games and have been left at home to watch teams compete for championships in the late days of March.
Clemson has had three consecutive home games with two of those being played in front of sold out crowds.
It was hard to know how this Clemson team would respond to post-season play as the Tigers were without a single player with any post-season experience in a Clemson uniform. (Greenwood native Demarcus Harrison played in the post-season with his former team at BYU) The home games proved to be a huge advantage for the Tigers and perhaps helped alleviate some of the nerves and pressure.
This year’s post-season thrill has been long overdue for the fans who have revered what the Tigers have been able to do through their tournament run. It is something everyone wants to see happen on a consistent basis and hopes that this year’s run will be a springboard for bigger and better opportunities in the future.