By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- Senior guard Tanner Smith knows all about Clemson’s 0-55 winless streak against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Chapel Hill, he has been a part of it as the Tigers’ have gone 0-2 since Smith has been a part of the team when visiting the “Dean Dome”. Last season, when many thought the Tigers had the best chance to beat the Tar Heels on their turf; Smith suffered a knee injury that kept him out for the remainder of the game. What does Smith remember about his last trip up to Chapel Hill?
“It wasn’t very fun,” Smith said. “It kind of made me appreciate what it’s like to be healthy because that was the first time I’d suffered an injury in college. It will be nice to get up there and play again, we get another opportunity to play another good team in Carolina and hopefully I’ll stay healthy. Every time I go out on the court I run that risk of getting injured just like every time you wake up, it’s just one of those things.”
When the Tigers’ played at Chapel Hill they suffered a close loss, and Smith believes he could have made a little bit of a difference in that game, however they were also close to beating the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament as they took them to overtime only to lose another close one.
“I think I could have made a difference in the game at Chapel Hill,” Smith said. “But then again we were very close to beating them in the ACC Tournament and let one slip away and I was able to play in that game. So you never know we’ll see what happens this year. We have a new team and they do too, they have a couple of injuries that I’m sure they wish they didn’t have and we have a lot of young guys. It will be an interesting game, we’ll go up there with the game plan that we have set and we’ll try to execute as best as we can.”
What makes the Dean Dome such a difficult place for opposing teams to win in?
“I think it’s just you go in there and obviously growing up every kid watches games there and wants to go there,” Smith said. “When you walk in, especially your first time they’ve got 400 jerseys hanging in the rafters and we’ve got like four. So it just shows the history they have and when you walk into a place like that you’re hit with it immediately. Then you know their fans just appreciate basketball, I guess it used to not be a very tough place to play but when you get those people going and they start getting on one of their runs, and their such an up and down team their runs can happen quick that the place can get going in a hurry. It’s full of history, people that really enjoy basketball, and it doesn’t hurt that they’ve got a bunch of talent.”
UNC’s length is something that will present a challenge to the Tigers’ tomorrow, and Smith realizes that it will be difficult to guard them effectively but the Tigers’ are up to the challenge.
“It’s tough because we don’t have those kinds of guys that have the length that they have,” Smith said. “So you try and get them out of positions that allow you to take away their length a little bit. I think we have two of the most versatile big men in the league in Booker and Milton, their ability to move around the court hopefully can get their big men away from the basket a little bit and allow some open lanes. Offensively for them we know that we’ve got to make sure that their big men are pushed a little off the lane, we can’t let them catch it deep on the post because we’re not going to be blocking their shots. Just getting them out of positions that can create some better offense for us is the key.”
Smith said that head coach Brad Brownell hasn’t said anything to the team about Clemson’s losing streak but he doesn’t believe there’s much Brownell can say about it to change the way Saturday’s game will be played.
“We know about it,” Smith said. “There’s not much that Coach Brownell needs to say, every year is a new opportunity to do it. We’ll go up there with the mindset of just trying to get a tough victory in a tough atmosphere. I don’t think it’s a coincidence; we’ve played them tough the last few years especially last year. We’ve had a good game plan against them. It’s just about executing each play and keeping them out of those big time runs that they have.”
At this point, Smith and the Tigers’ are playing for their post season lives as they sit at 13-12 (5-6 in the ACC). They know that if they’re going to continue playing into the post season, they need to continue to string good games together in order to end the season with a solid record.
“Definitely, we have a back loaded schedule,” Smith said. “We have to play at Carolina, and then we have NC State coming in here who played Duke down the wire last night. We get to go to Florida State and play them again, so we have some opportunities to get some big wins here at the end of the season. But we need to make sure that we take it one game at a time, and we’ve done well the past few games doing that. We’re taking the games one at a time, executing what we need to execute and paying attention to details. We’re able to string stops together which is something that we weren’t able to do at the beginning of the ACC season was string consecutive stops together and it’s given us more confidence. So we need to go up to Chapel Hill and string stops together even though they have a great deal of talent and guys that play with a lot of confidence and can make shots.”
Another thing Smith believes the Tigers’ will have to do successfully in order to play well at Chapel Hill is communicate.
“We’re going to have to do a really good job talking,” Smith said. “That’s a tough thing to do on the road but we’re going to have to be able to communicate and make sure that we’re all on the same page and take away the easy buckets, make them use a little more clock and take tougher shots. Offensively we’re going to take our opportunities when we have them, but I think our half court offense has been pretty good these past couple of games so we’re going to try and do what we want with our motion and moving our big men around, getting them away from the basket a little bit and make some shots.”