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Change of fortune
Clemson buries January struggles en route to Big Apple
Posted: Saturday March 20, 1999 03:15 PM
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -- Success had never come so hard for Clemson coach Larry Shyatt than in his first topsy-turvy season with the Tigers.
Shyatt's club ran out to a 11-1 start and was steadily climbing the national rankings in January. Then it opened the Atlantic Coast Conference season 1-7, including a disastrous stretch of six losses in the final minute.
Shyatt had watched balls bounce his way during his one season at Wyoming, but with four Clemson seniors who had been to three straight NCAA tournaments, he had no clue how to turn those defeats into triumph.
He and the Tigers finally did it Thursday night with an 89-69 victory over Butler to reach the NIT semifinals for the first time.
Shyatt's days and nights in January were spent reliving bad fouls and blown shots.
"Those three weeks were like three years," Shyatt said. "I'm sure I wasn't fair to my family, and I know I wasn't to my assistant coaches. I tried to deal with it the best I could. It was the first time in my life something like that had happened."
And it was the first time Clemson's seniors, including stars Terrell McIntyre and Harold Jamison, had gone through such disappointment as well.
It was only two years ago that Clemson, then coached by Rick Barnes, reached No. 2 nationally with a 15-1 start but struggled down the stretch. Still, the Tigers rebounded into the NCAA tournament's round of 16 and went to double overtime before falling to Final Four team Minnesota.
Jamison, who scored a career-high 26 points on seven dunks against the much smaller Bulldogs on Thursday, said the players realized giving up this time was not an option, working harder was.
The Tigers finished strongly down the stretch, winning six straight at Littlejohn Coliseum. In the NIT, they bounced Georgia by 20 points before winning at Rutgers and swarming Butler.
The seniors -- McIntyre, Jamison, Tom Wideman and Tony Christie -- stood on the scorer's table and thanked the cheering crowd after the game. With Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" in the background, they spoke of doing their supporters proud at Madison Square Garden when they meet Xavier in Tuesday's semifinals.
"We wanted to finish the season strong after a disappointing ACC season," McIntyre said. "We know there are three seasons during the year, the preseason, the regular season and the postseason. We're in our third season right now and trying to make the most of it."
Shyatt said he finally felt gratified after beating Rutgers in Pisacataway, N.J., on Tuesday night. Clemson was in control throughout to win the second-round match and the team was singing on the team bus back to the hotel.
"That's when I felt good for them," Shyatt said. "They have accomplished a lot."
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