By Will Vandervort
Brad Brownell wants it to be understood, his Clemson team was ready to play last Saturday when they traveled to Chestnut Hill to take on Boston College.
“In talking with my staff prior to warm ups and talking to my guys before the game, we were ready,” he said. “But what happens with our team, and it happens with a lot of teams, we seem to struggle some offensively, especially at the beginning.”
The Tigers (12-8, 4-5 ACC) struggled mightily in the first half against the Eagles, shooting just six of 26 (23.1 percent) from the field. Clemson trailed by 11 points at the break and trailed by 20 in the second half before a late run put the Tigers in position to win the game. But Milton Jennings three-pointer to tie the game in the final minute hit the front of the rim and Clemson again lost another game on the road.
“When you don’t score, there is a warring effect,” Brownell said. “I think with our team, a little bit, there are some nerves that get involved. There is a little anxiety. We don’t have many natural scorers. We don’t have guys that can maybe break a guy down and go score.”
Whatever the reason, Clemson cannot afford to get off to another slow start tonight at Virginia if it wants to avoid going 0-5 in ACC road games this year.
“There is a collective energy you have to have,” Clemson guard Jordan Roper said.
And therein is the problem for the Tigers when it comes to playing on the road. People, who have been around the game of college basketball or have played it, will tell you playing with a high level of energy in road games are the most important ingredients in winning.
They will say that magnifies even more when playing a road game in a conference like the ACC. With a team full of mostly freshman and sophomores, that’s where Clemson struggles. There isn’t enough experience on the team, as it appears, to make sure everyone plays with more intensity and energy than they do when they are playing in the friendly confines of Littlejohn Coliseum.
“I try to come out with as much intensity as I can or as much as possible,” Roper said. “As a team we have to come out with more intensity as a whole group.”
Because they have not found a way to win that first road conference game, Brownell believes his team is trying too hard. He points to the first half against Boston College and how good the shot selection was, yet they still struggled.
They missed wide open shots. They were able to get the ball inside to both Devin Booker and Milton Jennings and four times had the ball right under the basket only to miss all four shots. Three times they got offensive rebounds under the basket and did not score.
“I felt like it was a game where we tried harder and it almost worked against us,” Brownell said. “Instead of being confident and instead of playing relaxed, we tried too hard.
“When we were in desperation (mode) at the end, and got a spark from our young guards, that’s when it worked in our favor. There was nothing to lose. Now you are just going and playing.”
So that’s what Brownell is looking for his team to do tonight against Virginia. He doesn’t want them to think about the losing streak in road games, or the fact they are playing an ACC game. He wants them to just be relaxed and play with the same confidence they did when they shaved a 20-point deficit to one point in the second half at Boston College.
“The mindset of the players is a big part of confidence and success,” he said. “I have to believe Miami’s mindset right now is pretty good. They don’t believe they are going to lose. When you kind of have that feeling, you probably play better than you are at times and play closer to your potential.”