By William Qualkinbush
It is one of the most unpredictable times of the year for college basketball coaches.
After taking a week off to focus on final exams, teams re-take the court hoping to quickly knock the cobwebs off and get back to their winning ways. Clemson head coach Brad Brownell hopes his team can hit the ground running with school on the backburner for a while, as the Tigers host the Furman Paladins on Saturday afternoon.
It will be the 150th meeting in history between the two schools separated by about 30 miles within the bounds of upstate South Carolina. Brownell knows his players will need to channel its post-finals energy in a positive way because the Paladins will be sufficiently motivated to play well.
“It’ll be interesting to see how our guys respond after being in finals all week,” he said. “We practiced a couple of days, but we took some time off. Hopefully, our guys’ minds will be clear and focused and we’ll be ready to have a good performance.”
The Tigers had a long week off after falling at Arkansas by six points, 74-68, and will try to begin another winning streak to extend a 7-2 start to the season. They also have a chance to extend a lengthy streak of success against Furman, which has dropped 29 consecutive decisions against Clemson.
The Paladins enter Saturday’s game with a 4-5 record so far this season. In order for them to beat the Tigers for the first time since Jimmy Carter was president, they will need to take full advantage of 6’0” guard Stephen Croone.
Croone has been a prolific scorer at the top of Furman’s offense this season. The junior has averaged 20.4 points per game, which ranks 31st in the country. He has surpassed the 20-point mark six times in nine games, including a career-high 30-point showing against Gardner-Webb a few games ago.
Croone is the best scorer—based on average—Clemson has faced so far, and his ability to make an impact in Saturday’s game has not been lost on the Tigers.
“Coach really just said he’s a fast point guard,” guard Rod Hall, who will draw Croone as his assignment in the game, said. “He’s looking to attack and draw fouls.”
“He’s really good in transition, really gets to the basket,” Brownell said. “That’s a guy we really have to try to slow down a little bit.”
Clemson comes in with the ability to bare its teeth defensively, leading the nation in field goal percentage defense. The stingy play on that end of the floor has created a better flow for the Tigers on offense, where Brownell hopes efficiency remains high and more shots go into the basket.
Through nine games, Hall says the Clemson offense feels different—in a good way.
“It seems like it’s more free,” Hall said. “We just get it and go.”
Furman has already tangled with an ACC opponent this season, falling to Virginia Tech by 21 points in late November. Clemson’s only contest featuring a Southern Conference opponent ended with an 85-54 win over Davidson in Charleston.