CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson forward Devin Booker has seen the missed shots, the blown leads and the rallies that fall short time and time again.
It happened to the Tigers once again Sunday night, No. 3 Miami overcoming a four-point deficit to escape Littlejohn Coliseum with a 45-43 victory. It was the latest heartbreaker for Clemson – six of its eight Atlantic Coast Conference losses have come by seven points or fewer.
"It's just frustrating," said Booker, one of just two upperclassmen on the roster. "We've just got to move on. But it's definitely going to be hard."
Clemson held a 42-38 lead and K.J. McDaniels was headed to the free-throw line with less than 2 minutes remaining as the packed crowd smelled upset. Instead, McDaniels missed the 1-and-1 opportunity to start a series of blown chances down the stretch.
Rion Brown's three-point play, Kenny Kadji's 3-pointer for Miami and two missed layups by Clemson's Rod Hall the last 15 seconds led to another squandered opportunity.
Hall was called for an offensive foul after driving in toward Trey McKinney Jones with 13 seconds left. Hall was off target on a layup that would've tied the game on Clemson's final possession.
Tigers coach Brad Brownell was proud of his players' competitiveness. "Offensively, we could not finish some plays that we've we have got to make," he said.
Clemson (13-12, 5-8 ACC) struggled at the foul line as it has all year. The Tigers were just 5 of 13 on free throws, a dreadful 38.5 percent. "The free throws at the end were a killer," Brownell said.
Kadji had 12 points, none more important than the go-ahead 3 with 36 seconds left.
Miami improved to 12-0 in the ACC, the hottest league start since Duke went 16-0 on the way to the conference title in 1998-99. Miami (21-3) will likely supplant Duke – which lost at Maryland on Saturday night – as the country's second-ranked team when the new poll is released Monday.
With six games remaining, the Hurricanes hold a three-game edge over second-place Duke in the ACC as they chase their first league basketball championship.
"All we're thinking about is being 13-0," said Durand Scott, held to three points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Miami's single-minded focus on the moment paid off at Littlejohn Coliseum. The Hurricanes were down 42-38 on Jordan Roper's steal and coast-to-coast layup with 2:00 to go. Clemson got the ball back moments later when Shane Larkin's 3-point try rattled in and out and the large crowd could smell the upset.
Instead, Miami dug in down the stretch to escape with its 13th straight victory.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga said it would've been easy for his team to lose composure when the shots wouldn't fall. "But we were able to stick together and that makes a huge difference," he said.
The Tigers endured their second straight home heartbreaker. They were beaten 58-57 by North Carolina State on Scott Wood's 3-pointer at the end on Feb. 10.
Brownell said his team continues to miss makeable shots. "I thought we got the ball in great places on a lot of possessions, but you need to score to win," he said.
It was far from the prettiest game the Hurricanes have played in the breakout season. They scored their fewest points this year, shot under 26 percent in the first half and saw their high-scoring guard duo of Scott and Larkin go just 3 of 16 from the field.
None of that made a difference for Kadji, who easily made the decisive shot.
"We're going to fight until the clock is finished," Kadji said. "That's something coach always tells us. You want to play hard and try to win."
Freshman Jordan Roper had a career-high 19 points for the Tigers. Devin Booker added 10 points and 11 rebounds, his fifth game this season with double-figure points and rebounds.
Scott came in averaging 14 per game, but grabbed 11 rebounds, one shy of his career high.
"You've got to find other ways to help the team," Scott said.
Miami came in as the first ACC team to go 11-0 since North Carolina in 2000-01. The Tar Heels, who were No. 1 and had won 18 in a row at the time, saw the streak end at Littlejohn Coliseum in a stunning upset – the Tigers lost the previous game by 34 to North Carolina State and their next one by 32 to Wake Forest.