By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- Coming into Saturday’s 78-58 Tiger victory over Wake Forest, senior guard Tanner Smith knew that he would have to step his game up in order for his team to earn their first road victory. And that’s exactly what he did. Smith led the way for the Tigers’ making 8-9 from the field and scoring 20 points against the Demon Deacons.
Now the Tigers’ are set to face off against Virginia on Tuesday night, a team that squeezed by Clemson 65-61 earlier this season. What does Smith remember from that meeting and what does he expect for the rematch set on Valentine’s Day?
“I remember it was a little bit more offensive than we thought it would be,” Smith said. “Both teams shot the ball well, executed well on offense. But then again it was another one of those games where every possession once again was very big, we’re going to have to do a good job again like we did up there executing on both ends of the floor. We can’t stop them all of the time but there are some things that we can fix that we didn’t in the first game, like our transition defense wasn’t great. We want to make them run more clock on offense giving them time to hopefully make a mistake or take a little bit tougher shot than an open transition three or layup.”
“Once again I expect tomorrow will be a defensive battle,” Smith said. “Last game was a little more offensive than we both thought it would be but I’m going to go into tomorrow expecting it to be a battle. We’ll be aggressive, I know they’ll be aggressive, we’re going to have to look for good shots and executing the best we can.”
Smith was surprised earlier this season how offensive the game against Virginia was, knowing going into it that both Clemson and Virginia are known for winning games because of their defense.
“I think we’re similar, both teams are known in the conference for their defenses but have good offensive players,” Smith said. “I thought in the first game there were opportunities where both teams played very good defense and guys made tough shots. Sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn’t. So I think you can’t always expect to make those tough shots, as an offensive player you say you can make them but at the end of the day they call them tough shots for a reason. That’s what we want to force them into doing, executing offensively trying to get easy looks and our momentum going will be key for us.”
Joe Harris, a player for the Cavaliers who had a breakout game against Clemson earlier this season will be playing tomorrow night with a broken non-shooting hand, how difficult is that for a player?
“I think at first that it speaks a lot of his character that he wants to play through it, there’s a lot of guys out there that if they’re hurt they don’t want to hurt their stats or how they look on the court so they don’t play,” Smith said. “He’s one of those guys for their team that does a little of everything. He’s a good rebounder offensively, and he can do basically anything he wants to do offensively at 6 foot 6. So just because he’s out there with a hurt left hand, doesn’t mean he won’t compete. If anything he’ll be more focused, injuries almost put you in a more focused state of mind. Last year with my knee every time I went out I was more focused on every movement I made and he’ll be the same with his hand. He’ll make sure that every movement is the right one, and won’t put himself into any bad situations; he’ll be a smart player tomorrow so we’ll have to do a good job on him.”
As for Virginia’s most valuable player Mike Scott, Smith stands by his word earlier in the season that Scott should win ACC Player of the year.
“When you have an almost automatic 15-17 foot jump shot, it’s almost tough to guard,” Smith said. “Against Wake he went 8-8 and they were all jump shots, that’s tough to do. He’s averaging 8 rebounds a game, getting in there and making the plays that he needs to make in order for his team to win. We’re going to have to do a good job guarding him as a team; we can’t expect one guy to guard him, our team defense is going to have to be on point Tuesday.”
Smith believes that Saturday’s victory over Wake Forest can be a confidence booster for a team that was desperately in need of a win.
“It was nice to have one of those games where it seemed offensively and defensively we played pretty well,” Smith said. “We had too many off the ball fouls, holding guys, we almost let them back into the game with some of the free throws we were giving them. So we like the aggression that we came out with on the road but we can’t let that lead to fouls and free throws especially against a team like Virginia that makes their free throws. When you give them easy buckets, they gain confidence and you can’t guard free throws. We need to play aggressively on defense but also play smart and not give them that early bonus in the first and second halves.”
Against Wake, yet another one of Clemson’s freshmen had a break out game, Devin Coleman was 4-5 from the field and scored a career high 9 points after playing several games without recording an offensive stat.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Coach Brownell puts him in these tough ACC games,” Smith said. “He’s proven himself day in and day out in practice that he’s a good scorer, a capable scorer, a guy we can count on but just hadn’t put it all together. For me it was great watching him play the way he did, he looked comfortable, confident; it’s nice to see him get some of that. He was struggling to start and I hope he can continue to play that way for the rest of the year.”
As for the dodgball game Thursday, Smith went into it thinking that he was good at the game but left with an entirely different outlook.
“I thought I was really good, I wasn’t.” Smith said. “I was throwing some heat and it was taking off on me, Devin Coleman was actually the best and maybe that carried over to the basketball game, he got some dodgeball confidence. I would almost put myself into the worst column; I don’t think I hit anybody. I was throwing some heat. The coaches like to act like they’re very good, you know back when they were in PE that was all they played. They struggled, the freshmen won, didn’t lose a game. We always call them the little kids at heart, and they proved it once again. I thought it was a good thing for us, coach did a good job gauging our team after losing so many close games, so we got to let our frustration out on some dodgeballs.”