By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- After another tough loss in ACC play Saturday night against Virginia Tech, Brad Brownell and company are happy to be home and playing in Little John Coliseum. Although Brownell was not pleased with the way his team played in the first half against the Hokies, he was impressed with the way they continued to compete and fought back within two points, making it anyone’s game. However, after the Tigers’ suffering several losses like the one at Virginia Tech, by 7 points or less, Brownell expressed the team’s need for a closer like they had last season in senior Demontez Stitt. Until the Tigers’ learn to finish games, they’ll continue to have to play near perfectly throughout the game’s entirety in order to come away with a win.
“It’s a very quick turnaround obviously after the Virginia Tech game, difficult loss for our guys,” Brownell said. “We didn’t play as well for a good bit of the first half, and Virginia Tech was ready and we rallied back and made a game of it but it’s hard to turn back around after an emotional loss like that. Hopefully our guys are building their emotion and energy for tomorrow night that will be a big key to our success is our ability to shake it off and come back energized and ready to go.”
As far as standings in the ACC go, both Clemson and Maryland come into Tuesday night’s matchup at 3-5 in league play. Being that it will be the only time these two teams will meet all season, the Tigers’ are classifying this as a must win.
“I guess in some ways it’s an important game from the standpoint of whether we’re going to move up or down,” Brownell said. “It’s more though it’s the next game and you want to win. We played very well against Virginia and lost in a close one, and then we didn’t play as well for part of the Virginia Tech game but rallied back late. We just have a bad taste in our mouths of not winning a game and you want to feel what that’s like again.”
As for an update on the status on junior forward Milton Jennings who was suspended from the team indefinitely before the Virginia game due to an inability to comply with academic standards, Brownell told the media on Monday that Jennings would be back practicing with the team that afternoon and would be available to play against Maryland on Tuesday.
“Milt is going to be back practicing today and he’ll play tomorrow if I think he’s ready and if we need him at some point,” Brownell said. “He and I met yesterday and talked out some things so we’re back and ready to go. He won’t start but will play if needed.”
As for freshmen KJ McDaniels and Bernard Sullivan who both had break out games for the Tigers’ against Virginia Tech, Brownell hopes that their playing time against Maryland will be more significant but knows that it will be dictated by who they’re matched up against.
“Every game is different and match ups dictate different things,” Brownell said. “Certainly those guys played well and I was pleased with the way they competed. They were a big part in bringing us back, though Bernard did some good things to ignite us in the second half and KJ did a very good job as far as taking the ball to the basket. All of our freshmen have had a game or two where they’ve been able to do something positive, but we just haven’t gotten them to do that consistently yet.”
“They’ve all had the opportunities, some of them have played more than most freshmen,” Brownell said. “You’re just working with them every day getting them to improve as much as they can, and it’s all about how they respond and react to live games. That’s how you find out what they’re made of. Bernard and Devin Coleman have had the least amount of opportunities, but with Bernard it was mainly due to his health, he’s doing better and has caught up in all areas.”
Brownell stressed the importance of having a guy that could drive the ball to the basket, making the team a little less one dimensional.
“It’s critical, you want guys that can make a shot behind the three point line, a guy that can score in the low block and a guy that can drive by people to be good offensively,” Brownell said. “You need to do different things well, can’t just be one dimensional. We’ve been one dimensional at times this year, and sometimes we’ve looked to be zero dimensional to be honest with you. We haven’t had much offense and that’s a problem with our team and the reason why we’re the record we are. We haven’t been able to consistently score in a way that makes you not have to play perfect in certain situations, and we just haven’t been able to get that done.”
Brownell doesn’t believe that his team’s problem is late game execution; instead he knows that finishing is something they need to improve on.
“If you look at every game we’ve played, late in the game we’ve had open shots but haven’t made them, that’s execution,” Brownell said. “Andre would set a great screen in the middle of the court against Virginia had an open three and missed it, KJ against Virginia Tech drove to the basket and tried to dunk it, Milton Jennings at Boston College missed a wide open 10 footer, Devin got the rebound was fouled and missed both free throws. You have to be a closer that’s the hardest part. You put kids in a position but they have to close it. When they refer to Kobe Bryant as a closer, they get him the ball at a spot and he makes his shot, that’s what separates good players from great ones, it’s the hardest part, guys that can make a shot when you need it, under pressure, at a difficult time. We’ve been very close, execution we missed the free throw the other night, got the tip out to Tanner with 3 seconds left for the open shot, that’s pretty good execution we just didn’t make the shot. Our guys are doing good things, just not making the shots.”