By Will Vandervort
Clemson’s Brad Brownell says his basketball team is not as bad as it looked in the loss to Florida State last Thursday and it is not as good as it looked in the win over Duke on Saturday.
“We are somewhere in between,” the Tigers’ head coach said after the 72-59 victory over the Blue Devils.
Wherever Clemson (11-4, 2-1 ACC) is at, one thing is certain, it seems to be playing with more chemistry than it did this time last year. That was one of the first things Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said following the game.
“Their kids played so hard, and it started from the get-go,” he said. “From the start you could tell they had a great verve. I thought that in the first half we did a good job of countering that, but their physicality and athleticism and determination wore on us.
“We got doubled on the score in the second half. A lot of it was their defense.”
The Tigers’ defense has been doubling up a lot of people this year. Even in the loss to Florida State, the Seminoles were held to 56 points. In fact, no one seems to be scoring on Clemson these days.
Clemson leads the country in scoring defense (53.9), three-point percentage defense (24.6) and is No. 2 nationally in overall field goal percentage defense (35.9). The Tigers’ 99 blocked shots (6.6 per game) rank 11th nationally as well.
Duke felt the full blunt force of that defense in the second half as the Tigers held them to 0 of 11 shooting in the last 6:23 of the game.
“You can get defensive momentum, too,” Brownell said. “When you are grinding on a team and it is hard for them to score and they finally get an open look, they feel like they have to make it and they don’t make it.”
The Blue Devils made just 8 of 32 shots in the second half and were only 3 of 14 from behind the three-point line.
“We didn’t want to give up any shots at all,” Clemson guard Rod Hall said. “We just played as hard as we could and tried to dig the win out.”
Brownell says the Tigers are who they are. They might not be the best scoring or shooting team in the league, but they play hard and they play good defense. And that is what keeps them in games and gives them a chance to win at the end when maybe things are not going too well on the offensive end.
The Clemson coach feels this year, his team might be a little bit better defensively than the last two years because of the way Landry Nnoko is starting to come along at center. Brownell says he might even be a little better defensively than All-ACC center Devin Booker.
“This year being a little bit older has helped us a good bit and I think Landry Nnoko as a post player and his ability to move his feet, help on ball screen defense, help in transition and his willingness to take pride in defense is significant and is helping this team,” Brownell said. “He is a little more active and even a little bit longer than Devin Booker was last year.
“He has been a big part of maybe why we are a little bit better.”
Now Brownell just wants to get his team a little bit better offensively, and if the Tigers can do that than maybe the team that beat Duke on Saturday at Littlejohn Coliseum will show up a little more often this season.
“Our job as coaches and players is to try and find a way to be a little more consistent offensively to help us,” he said.
Clemson will try and do that Wednesday when it travels to Blacksburg, Va. to take on Virginia Tech. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.