Clemson basketball closes historic season, finishes No. 14 in the final AP Poll 

It wasn’t long ago when Clemson guard Chase Hunter took the microphone on Senior Night following the team’s win over Syracuse, telling Clemson fans to stick with the team. 

“We are going on a run,” he said, reassuring the crowd that the team would not have a quick March and would play plenty of games. 

Hunter’s quote could have fallen victim on many social media platforms early in the month, as the Tigers lost three of their final four games in the regular season. 

The worst game? A 76-55 upset loss to the Boston College Eagles in the ACC Tournament, sending Clemson out early. 

Many came piling in a few days later when the No. 6-seeded Tigers were paired up with the Mountain West champion and No. 11-seeded New Mexico Lobos, who saw six bids go to their conference. Clemson would be considered the underdog in the contest.

Before that game, head coach Brad Brownell was curious to see where his team was at mentally following a tough end to the season. 

“I think we’re ready,” he said to the media before Clemson’s opening-round game. “I hope we’re recentered. But this is about players making plays and we’re going to find out where our guys are come game time.”

And Brownell found out his answer: his team was ready for the moment. 

The Tigers took an early lead and never looked back, running the Lobos out of the FedEx Forum with a 77-56 win to advance into the second round. 

They would see similar success two days later in their game against Baylor, holding the Bears off and leading for almost all of the game once again. Despite a late Baylor surge to cut the lead to a one-possession game, the Tigers were in front when the buzzer sounded, and Clemson was going to its first Sweet 16 since 2018. 

“I just love this team,” Brownell said after the win. “They’re really good players, but they’re better people. Really proud of the culture we have in our program. Outstanding students. We do things the right way.”

“To be able to spend another week with them is fantastic,” he added, heading to Los Angeles for Clemson’s second weekend. 

The hope was for the team’s first Elite Eight since 1980, but the team had lost their last three contests in the Sweet 16. Facing a high-octane offense and title-hopeful Arizona, Clemson was the underdog once again, which would be their third time in the tournament.

But the magic continued. 

Another early lead helped the Tigers set the pace of the game, but, this time, Arizona fought back early in the second half, and the Wildcats would tie the game at 56 apiece with just under ten minutes to go. 

That didn’t stop Clemson from continuing to deliver blows to the Wildcats, with Chase and Dillon Hunter delivering back-to-back and-1 plays down the stretch to put the game out of hand and deliver the Tigers their biggest win in program history since 1980. 

“Today was our day,” Brownell said about his team after the win. “We made enough plays to win, and I’m just super happy that these guys are going to get a chance to continue to play and we get to spend more time together.”

But like most magical runs, the magic sometimes gets swept away by a team that just overtakes them. For the Tigers, it was a familiar face in the Alabama Crimson Tide, who shot just under 45% from 3-point range en route to an 89-82 win over Clemson. 

For the Tigers, the loss should not be the defining moment of their run. While out of the AP Top 25 for a majority of 2024, Clemson was back in it at the end of the season, receiving the No. 14 seed in the country in AP’s final poll of the year. 

To a Clemson team that defied the odds and put the world on notice with a little magic on their side, the season will go down as one of the best seasons of Brownell’s career with the Tigers, being the first Clemson coach to take the team to two Sweet 16s along the way. 

For the Clemson head coach, he will miss the fun that the journey brought him along the way. 

“I’m so proud of my team and especially these three guys,” Brownell said following the loss to Alabama. “The ride we’ve been on the last couple of weeks has certainly been memorable, not just for all of us but our fan base, which is significant. But more than that, just for the kind of people we have in our program.”

“Our players are just such good kids and they allow us to coach them and they represent our university in an unbelievable way. And, man, it’s just a joy,” he continued, “and I love all of them dearly, and I’m just sad that we’re not going to get to play more together because we’ve just had so much fun. And this is such a fun-loving group, that the hardest part about these losses is that it’s the end of a season.”

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