By William Qualkinbush
The Clemson basketball team’s first true road trip of the season did not go according to plan. But in the grind of a 30-game schedule, it certainly will not be the last chance they have to prove their collective ability to achieve on an opponent’s home turf.
The Tigers get their first shot to show improvement as they head to Auburn for a battle with the SEC Tigers at 8 p.m. on Thursday. In their first trip to Auburn Arena in 68 years, Clemson will be looking to atone for mistakes made in the immediate past.
In a December 7 game at Arkansas that ended in a 74-68 Razorbacks win, the Tigers felt the game could have been theirs. Their collective resolve in applying the lessons learned will be put to the test against a team capable of causing them problems.
“We pulled through,”forward K.J. McDaniels said. “We just kind of pulled through a little too late. So we have to go out there from the beginning and jump on teams.”
Head Coach Brad Brownell knows it is a little more complicated than that. He looks at the mentality of the team as it prepares to go on the road, understanding his young unit needs to approach the game as a tougher bunch from the opening tip.
“We’ve got to be tougher to play against, especially defensively,” Brownell said. “We’ve got to do a better job of making them a little uncomfortable and taking them out of some things that they want to do.”
Auburn presents a challenge due to its guard play. A pair of upperclassmen—senior Chris Denson and junior K.T. Harrell—have combined to average 38.3 points per game, which represents greater than half of the team’s 75.9 points per game as a group. Denson is approaching 20 points per contest this season and is regarded as a slasher, while Harrell—a perimeter player by nature—is scoring 18.4 points per game.
As a team, Auburn has been adept at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. Denson takes around ten foul shots per game. Clemson’s defense, on the other hand, has pleased Brownell with its ability to adjust to the quicker whistles that accompanied the start of the season.
“Our guys have been very disciplined in not fouling,” Brownell said. “We’ve obviously coached that, to keep our hands off and play with our feet.”
Auburn will attempt to push the tempo, which goes against Clemson’s preference of a more deliberate pace of play. Though it may seem to behoove Brownell to pull the reins back, he is more inclined to let his team play the way it feels comfortable.
“We’ll try to be opportunistic,” he said. “When we feel like we have chances, we need to go ahead and score.”
Redemption will be on the minds of Clemson’s players as they take the floor on Thursday. There will be extra motivation for McDaniels, who hopes to help his team to its first road victory of the season in his home state of Alabama in front of a contingency of family and friends.
“I want to win going back home,” McDaniels said. “Getting that win and bringing it back here to Clemson, I feel like that will be a good showing for me before Christmas break.”