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Clemson reeling without a healthy Stitt
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass.The Clemson Tigers aren’t a tournament team. Not without a healthy Demontez Stitt.
It’s no coincidence that the recent three-game slide has occurred simultaneously with the foot injury Clemson’s starting point guard suffered 10 days ago.
Stitt played through the pain in a loss to Georgia Tech, then hobbled his way against Duke in a 23-point Blue Devils rout this past weekend before coach Oliver Purnell opted to shut him down against BC on Tuesday night.
Clemson was 15-3 and 3-1 in league play BSI — that’s before Stitt’s Injury.
Now, the Tigers have become like almost everyone else in the ACC.
"We were about to go 4-1 in the league," Purnell said. "Now, we’ve got to get it back together.”
Trevor Booker is one of the top big men in the ACC and maybe even the country, but he didn’t look the part for most of the 75-69 loss on Tuesday night. He finished with 19 points and eight rebounds but should have been far more dominant against the inside tandem of Courtney Dunn and Josh Southern.
Without Stitt, it was almost as if someone had taken Booker’s baby blanket. Booker appeared rattled.
"After losing two straight, you’d think we’d come out with a lot of intensity,” Booker said after a dismal first half in which the Tigers trailed by as many as 19 points. "But we came out flat. Again.”
When you think of Clemson basketball in the Purnell Era, swarming athletes come to mind. Pressure, pressing defense with bodies flying for nearly the entire game.
But that wasn’t the case until it was too late against BC. The Eagles aren’t loaded with high-caliber ball-handlers, yet it was the Tigers who committed more turnovers going into the break.
That wouldn’t have been the case had Clemson had its floor leader.
It was also a draw on the boards — 29 apiece — for a Clemson team that is far more athletic and physical.
The effort was so lackluster, especially in the first half, that the usually mild-mannered Purnell could be heard screaming at his team down the hallway following the loss.
"That’s what happens when you dig a hole,” Purnell said. "You can’t play a half on the road in the ACC.”
Now, Clemson will face a red-hot Maryland team that has won four straight by an average margin of more than 28 points.
Another loss, and the Tigers will be .500 in ACC play.
"It’s pretty depressing right now,” Booker said.
Clemson has slid into the dreaded territory of the NCAA tournament bubble.
Sure, most of the Tigers’ losses are of the quality variety — a pair to Duke, at Georgia Tech, on a neutral court against Top 25 Texas A&M, at home against Illinois and now on the road against BC.
But impressive wins against NCAA tournament teams?
Without point guard Demontez Stitt on the floor, Clemson isn't nearly the same team it could be.
Butler is the lone résumé victory.
With a healthy Stitt, this Clemson club is capable of beating anyone in the ACC — especially in Littlejohn Coliseum. Purnell is hopeful he’ll have his starting floor leader back on the floor against the Terps this weekend.
"He makes a big difference,” admitted Booker.
"I think Stitt is one of the most overlooked players in our league,” added BC guard Reggie Jackson, who buried all 10 of his free throws in the win. "You see how they struggled without him tonight. He’s their leader.”
But it’s not just Stitt’s absence.
For the first 19 games of the season, there hasn’t been much said about the early departure of shooting machine Terrence Oglesby. The Tigers had been shooting well collectively from long distance.
But the Tigers were just 3-for-16 from beyond the arc vs. Boston College, following up a 2-for-13 performance from 3-point land in the loss to Duke.
The loss of Oglesby, who left two years premature and is now playing in Ukraine after his first overseas stop didn’t work out, has clearly hindered the Tigers’ perimeter shooting.
"We miss him sometimes,” Booker admitted. "But we’re better on the defensive end. He’d shoot us in some games and shoot us out of others.”
Andre Young, who started his first career game in place of Stitt in the loss to Boston College, was just 1-for-7 from beyond the arc and 2-for-11 overall from the field.
"He struggled tonight,” Purnell said.
The entire team did — and will continue to do so without Stitt.
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