By Will Vandervort
From the seven minute mark of the first half until the 13 minute mark of the second, Clemson made only one field goal against rival South Carolina Sunday evening.
Needing some kind of spark after the visiting Gamecocks whittled away at what was once a 13-point lead to one on a Michael Carrera layup with 12:51 to play, K.J. McDaniels took it upon himself to be the guy that provided it.
The junior forward scored seven of the next 10 points as Clemson went on a 10-1 run to seize control of the game and never looked back in a 71-57 victory at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson.
“I felt like I needed to be much more aggressive,” McDaniels said. “I knew I had to fight through contact and go make plays.”
And he did. McDaniels scored nine of his game-high 21 points after Carrera’s layup, while energizing his teammates at the same time.
He did not do it by just scoring either. McDaniels also tallied seven blocks and recorded 10 rebounds for his first double-double of his career.
“He just made plays,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “He attacked the basket, both with some of the things we set up and one play where he went on his own and grabbed the ball, went to the basket and got fouled.
“It was certainly a high-level play.”
The play Brownell was talking about came with 10:16 to play in the game. With the Tigers (3-0) on top 47-40, McDaniels grabbed a South Carolina miss and outlet the ball to guard Rod Hall, who then found McDaniels in transition. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound forward took the ball strong to the basket when he drew contact, a foul and made the basket.
The three-point play gave Clemson an eight-point lead and control of the game.
“That just shows the improvement he has made over this year,” said guard Jordan Roper, who scored 15 points and had four assists. “He is the leader of this team and in tough situations he is the guy that we kind of look at.
“In that situation he played within himself and he let the game come to him and he attacked. It really paid off.”
McDaniels was not done. On the Gamecocks’ next possession down, he stole the ball, moved it ahead to Roper who then set him up with an alley-oop and then McDaniels dunked it home for a 50-40 lead with 10:01 to play.
Feeling McDaniels’ energy, Ibrahim Djambo hit a jumper from inside the paint. Then McDaniels set up Roper a few moments later with another steal as the sophomore drew a foul and made two free throws for a 56-43 lead.
McDaniels has scored at least 20 points in two of the Tigers’ three games so far this year.
“He still has work to do and his game still has room to grow, which is exciting because he’s still a guy learning to play the game off the dribble and pass in traffic,” Brownell said of McDaniels’ play. “He always makes the highlight plays with the blocks and dunks and things of that nature.
“His skill set has improved tremendously with his shooting, his ability to drive it and attack some closeouts.”
Besides McDaniels 21 and Roper’s 15, Clemson also got 14 points from Rod Hall, who is 14 of 14 from the foul this season. The Tigers, who will play Temple at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Charleston Classic, were 24 of 26 from the foul line.
“I thought we executed well late and made big free throws, certainly that was a big advantage,” Brownell said.
South Carolina (1-2) got 13 points and 12 rebounds from Mindaugas Kacinas and 10 points from Sindarius Thornwell.