The moral of Wake’s 75-67 home loss to 20th-ranked Clemson today is as simple as it is straightforward.
When your team is trailing by four with 40 seconds left and you pull up and take a what-the-hell 3-pointer from 25-feet out – and with 17 seconds left on the shot clock – it might behoove you to make it.
Bryant Crawford took that what-the-hell 25-footer with 17 seconds left on the shot clock and missed, and consequently his Deacons missed a really, really good chance to pull off an upset that would have resulted in their first “winning streak’’ since before Christmas.
The term “hero ball’’ is one that has worked its way into basketball’s lexicon in recent times, and, best I can tell, it’s rarely used as a compliment. Not since the short but eventful run of J.T. Terrell through the program have I seen a Wake player quicker than Crawford to lapse in “hero-ball’’ mode, which would be all well and good if Crawford was known to be money in the clutch.
Of all that Crawford has been known for in his 86-game career, being money in the clutch is not on the list. If it were, the Deacons would have won more than 38 of those 86 games he has been on the floor.
Wake, in many ways, did too many things right to come up once again on the wrong side of the score. For the longest time the defense the Deacons were playing was as good as I’ve seen from a Wake team in I don’t know how long.
These days, as I’ve mentioned, I keep track of Wake’s stops, and the practice has convinced me of the strides the Deacons have made since giving up points to Georgia Southern on 20 of 34 second-half possessions back in November.
Today, Clemson was missing more than the inspiration so plainly evident four nights ago in an 82-78 home victory over North Carolina.
Over the first 43 times the Tigers crossed mid-court with the ball, they managed to score on just 17. The Deacons, meanwhile, were driving hard to the basket, drawing fouls and playing remarkably clean basketball.
If the box score I’m currently perusing is for real, the Deacons played the entire second half without a turnover – a staggering accomplishment for a team that, entering the game, was ranked No. 233 among 351 NCAA Division teams with an average of 14 turnovers a game.
But down the stretch the game resembled losses to Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Clemson, finally finding the basket, scored on 15 of its last 24 possessions and put the game away by outscoring the Deacons 11-3 over the final 3 ½ minutes.
Wake contributed to Clemson’s end-game flurry by fouling the Tigers on six of their last eight possessions. Crawford did his bit by fouling Marcquise Reed – who just happened to be one of the ACC’s best free-throw shooters (86 percent) – on a 3-point attempt in front of the Clemson bench with 3:39 remaining.
Wake led 64-63 when Crawford sent Reed to the line for three. Reed made two and the Tigers led the rest of the way.
But Wake still had a shot, and a pretty good shot at that, even after a basket by Reed extended the Clemson lead to 69-65. David Skara missed for Clemson on the next possession, Doral Moore rebounded and Wake crossed mid-court with just less than minute remaining.
Many teams have rallied from four points down in the final minute, so the situation wasn’t even all that dire. But whatever play or set the Deacons had planned broke down, Crawford found himself with the ball 25 feet from the basket and he decided it was as good as time as any – even, again, with 17 seconds left on the shot clock – to play a little hero ball.
Good teams find a way to win. Bad teams find a way to lose.
Wake, at 9-14 overall and 2-9 against ACC competition, is a bad team.