TAMPA – Clemson's upperclassmen have grown accustomed to enduring sleepless nights after the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
This latest one was a little different – and better – than the rest.
Clemson faced UAB on Tuesday night in one of the inaugural "First Four" play-in games at Dayton, Ohio. After routing UAB 70-52, the Tigers boarded a late-night flight and didn't arrive in Tampa until Wednesday at 4:30 a.m.
"It was pretty late – or early," senior forward Jerai Grant said. "Whatever you want to call it."
The Tigers (22-11) were willing to deal with the unusual circumstances as long as it meant their five-game NCAA tournament losing streak was over, but it did put a serious wrench in their preparations for Thursday's East Regional game with West Virginia (20-11) at the St. Pete Times Forum. Instead of scheduling the Clemson-West Virginia matchup at night to give the Tigers more time to rest, NCAA officials made this a 12:15 p.m. tip-off. That means it will tip off about 36 hours after the completion of Clemson's victory over UAB.
"We certainly wish maybe that we were playing a night game and just had a little more time in the morning to have a normal walk-through and a normal meeting," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "But we basically have to wake up and play."
That was the closest anyone from Clemson came to complaining about the situation. As one of the last four teams in the 68-team field, the Tigers are grateful just to have made the tournament at all.
And the Tigers actually have gotten plenty of sleep, even if it wasn't at night. After arriving in their Tampa hotel rooms at 4:30 a.m., the Tigers rested until close to noon.
"I feel like as players, we can't let fatigue and things like that get to us," senior guard Demontez Stitt said. "We're just going to have to play through it. We're going to have to impose our will on them from the beginning and not let the game go down to the wire."
West Virginia's players disputed the notion they would automatically benefit from Clemson's fatigue.
"I don't think it will be a factor at all," West Virginia forward Cam Thoroughman said. "UConn just played five games in five days and won the Big East tournament. They played one game, they flew down here and I'm sure they found some way to get some rest today. … Plus, it's all adrenaline, man. When you get out there on the court and you get to playing, you don't even think about that stuff."
If the Tigers do start feeling tired Thursday, they can take inspiration from their program's history.
This marked Clemson's latest arrival from a road trip since Feb. 15, 2001, when the Tigers didn't get back from North Carolina State until 5:30 a.m. after a weather-related flight cancellation forced them to take a bus back to campus. Clemson upset top-ranked North Carolina in its first game after that trip.
The difference is that Clemson didn't play North Carolina until three days later. Clemson won't have nearly as much opportunity to rest this time.