Foul-cursed Clemmons on winning legacy: 'I'm not a quitter'

Chad Leistikow

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Iowa’s shut-down defensive guard wore a white, long-sleeved T-shirt for the final 17 minutes, 26 seconds of the first half of Sunday’s NCAA Tournament loss to Villanova.

That wasn’t the plan for Anthony Clemmons’ final game as a Hawkeye.

“It’s hard,” the senior said after an 87-68 NCAA Tournament second-round loss to the second-seeded Wildcats, “because you’re in a position that you really can’t help.”

Clemmons was whistled for his second foul 2½ minutes into the game while trying to stop Villanova’s Jalen Brunson from enjoying a breakaway layup after Mike Gesell’s turnover. Iowa trailed 7-6 at the time.

Clemmons sat and watched the rest of the half, which ended with Villanova in front 54-29.

That’s the approach Iowa coach Fran McCaffery deploys when one of his key guys picks up two first-half fouls. It’s one he revisited as the game began to slip away.

“I thought about putting him back in. I struggled with it,” McCaffery said. "But I thought with (Nicholas) Baer playing the way he played, and Christian (Williams) was solid, we could get by without him. I thought it would allow Sapp (Clemmons’ nickname) to play his game in the second half.”

There’s no question Clemmons, who was responsible for stifling many Big Ten Conference guards during the regular season, could have helped Iowa’s leaky perimeter defense. Villanova made six consecutive 3-point attempts during one stretch.

He didn't lobby McCaffery to put him back in.

“I thought my guys were going to pretty much keep it close,” Clemmons said, “make sure it didn’t get out of hand.”

Unfortunately, the game did. A 13-all score devolved to 21-13. Then 31-21 went to 43-24. Villanova shot 61 percent in the first half.

“Unfortunately, they were able to hit (3s). We never bothered them,” Clemmons said. “They were just able to get a rhythm quick, and they caught confidence.”

Clemmons’ value was evident in the second half — he was aggressive offensively, scoring nine points with four assists. He fought to the finish as Iowa cut a 34-point deficit to 16 on his driving bucket with 1:44 to go.

It was an emblematic end to Clemmons’ 137th and final game as a Hawkeye, especially after his soul-searching sophomore season, when he considered transferring. But he stuck it out to the end, at Iowa and on Sunday.

“I’m able to hold my head high with what I left in this program,” Clemmons said. “… I think I left my legacy as a winner. I’m not a quitter.”