When Gardner-Webb guard Ty Strange buried a double-clutch top of the key 3-pointer to tie the score at 70 with 6.6 seconds remaining, the one consolation for Clemson was that overtime appeared to be the worst possible scenario for the Tigers.
Somehow, someway, that wasn't the case.
Clemson managed to lose in regulation Friday afternoon as a result of a Chris Webber-esque timeout gaffe. Forward Donte Grantham couldn't find anyone to inbound the ball to, guard Rod Hall signaled for a timeout the Tigers didn't have and Jarvis Davis took advantage of the ensuing technical foul by coolly sinking a pair of free throws.
Gardner-Webb then escaped with an improbable 72-70 victory after Clemson's Jordan Roper and Landry Nnoko both missed last-gasp shots on the game's final possession.
"We all thought there was one [timeout] left," Clemson coach Brad Brownell told the South Carolina-based Sports Talk Radio Network. "Obviously that's a huge mistake and I take full responsibility"
Later he added, "Now I feel like I've lost a game every way possible."
If last year's 23-win NIT semifinal campaign was something of a breakthrough for Brownell, this season is already shaping up to be a big step backward. Clemson hasn't adjusted well to the departure of star guard K.J. McDaniels to the NBA, contributing to a pair of losses to Big South opposition this week.
The loss to Gardner-Webb wasn't like the 1993 national championship game against North Carolina but it was even more damaging than the previous setback against Winthrop because it relegates Clemson to the loser's bracket of the Paradise Jam tournament. Unless either LSU or Seton Hall are also upset in the opening round, the Tigers will have no chance to salvage their weekend by getting a quality win.
What has to be especially frustrating about Friday's loss was Clemson had the game well in hand. The Tigers led by 13 points with less than eight minutes remaining before Gardner-Webb launched its comeback, paving the way for a gaffe Brownell and his staff surely won't forget anytime soon.
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