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Sunday, January 5, 2014
Clemson's Brownell: Donahue 'terrific'

By Jack McCluskey

Though they are rivals on the sidelines and competitors on the recruiting trail, at a basic level college coaches are all members of the same fraternity. They know how much goes into success and what failure feels like.

So after his Clemson Tigers beat Boston College 62-60 on Saturday evening at Conte Forum, handing Steve Donahue’s Eagles their 11th loss of the season, Brad Brownell had something to say, and he was going to say it whether he was prompted to or not.

“Credit to the BC kids for continuing to compete and play,” the visiting coach said. “I think Steve is a terrific coach. And I know he’s doing it in a different way than some people have done it in the past, but I admire him for the way he’s doing it. He’s sticking with his principles, he’s recruiting really good players, really good kids. They’re just in a tough cycle.

“Their schedule was brutal. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. And I bet eight or nine out of 10 college teams with a 4-10 record, after we withstood their charge in the last two minutes would have just quit. And they kept fighting and they almost stole the game from us.”

Down nine with 3:23 to play, Olivier Hanlan and the Eagles whittled the Tigers’ lead down to two and the sophomore guard had a chance to tie it from the free throw line with one second left. But Hanlan missed the first free throw, and Clemson rebounded his intentional miss on the second to secure the win.

“Sometimes you’ve got to be lucky a little bit,” Brownell said. “And we were certainly fortunate with the last free throw. I hate that for Hanlan, he’s such a good player and a good young man, you hate to see that, but he’ll bounce back, he’s such a good player, he’ll be fine.”

The win improved the athletic, long Tigers to 10-3 on the season and 1-0 in ACC play. That’s a far cry from where Clemson finished the 2012-13 season, when the Tigers lost nine of their final 10 regular-season games and their ACC tournament opener to finish 13-18 (including 5-13 in the ACC).

“Steve and I took [our programs] over in similar situations, we had good older players our first year. But then we both have had to kind of ... they recycled that year, we kind of recycled the next year,” Brownell said. “And it’s hard to win in this league when you’re playing freshmen and sophomores. We just don’t get the kind of freshmen and sophomores [at Clemson and BC] that most of these guys do [in the ACC].

“I give Steve credit -- Steve’s gotten some really good freshmen and sophomores and their system’s made these guys into terrific players, but you’ve still got to remember these guys are young. Hanlan and [Joe] Rahon are sophomore guards? I don’t want to deal with those guys for two more years.”

Though he’s got enough to worry about rebuilding Clemson, Brownell clearly had heard rumblings of discontent about Donahue and the Eagles’ disappointing nonconference performance. And the Clemson coach left no doubt that he disagrees with the grumblers.

“They’re just really, really young and I know much was starting to be expected because of the way they finished the year,” Brownell said, “and Steve goes out and challenges himself, with a tremendously hard schedule and mostly road games and now people are upset with him? I went the other way, I scheduled soft to build confidence for our team because we were coming off a 13-18 year and we needed to win some games so we could think we could beat somebody.

“But at the end of the day they’re not a 4-10 team and we’re probably not as good as our record -- if we played their schedule I’m sure we’d look a lot like that. It’s just a part of it. I think people have got to be careful to make quick judgments of situations without understanding the whole picture.”

Despite BC's record, Brownell doesn’t believe the Eagles are far away from turning some of these losses into wins. They just need a few things to go their way to get the momentum going, he said.

“It’s really fragile,” the fourth-year Tigers coach said of players’ psyches. “There’s a lot more pressure on these kids than people realize and there’s no mercy in the league, there’s no mercy in the job. It’s just a grind. And you’re just trying to do your best. ... There’s something to be said for experience.

“You go through a cycle like this, and a year from now it’ll make you better. It’ll make you appreciate winning a little bit more.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.