It only gets harder from here

It only gets harder from here

Basketball

It only gets harder from here

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By Will Vandervort.

By Will Vandervort

Clemson head coach Brad Brownell describes Clemson’s difficult schedule of five road confrontations in the next six games as an opportunity to get where they ultimately want to go. But to get there they cannot think about it as a collection of games, instead they have to take it the proverbial “one game at a time” mantra.

That first game is tonight (8:05) when the Tigers visit Pittsburgh’s Peterson Event Center in Pittsburgh, Penn., and the No. 20 Panthers.

So far Clemson’s “one game at a time” approach has gotten it off to a 4-1 start in the ACC, the Tigers best start in conference play since the 1996-’97 team did the same.

“I feel like the chemistry is there,” Clemson forward K.J. McDaniels said. “We all get along with other and we all do whatever it takes to get a win. It is an honor to be there so we just have to keep doing that so we can keep it going.”

By doing that, Clemson (13-4) currently finds itself in a second place tie with Pittsburgh and Virginia in the latest ACC standings. All three teams are only one game back of second-ranked Syracuse.

“We’re off to a good start and we’re playing well,” Brownell said. “But it’s a long distance race and we have some tough games coming up with five of our next six games on the road. But we’ve been opportunistic and found ways to win some close games.

“We’re still growing and improving as a team but I’m certainly proud of our guys.”

So how are the Tigers doing it? And can they keep it up?

“The sky is the limit for us,” McDaniels said. “If we keep working and keep the right mentality, then we will go far.”

They have already equaled the same number of wins they had all of last season and they were picked 15th overall by the media in the preseason poll.

“I thought we were better than people thought, but there is no way in not thinking that when you look at our team, our roster and who we lost and what we have coming back. There were a lot of question marks,” Brownell said. “We did not have a lot of guys coming back that were proven players. There was no guarantee K.J. was going to play as well as he has played. There was no guarantee Rod (Hall) was going to improve and play as well as he has played. You can say that about a lot of our guys.

“So our guys have just kind of hung in there and have fought.”

And there is still a lot of fighting to go. After tonight’s game with Pitt, the Tigers travel to North Carolina on Sunday where they are 0-55 all-time against the Tar Heels. Following the Tar Heels’ annual get-well game, Clemson is back on the road on Feb. 1 where it plays a Florida State team that gave the Tigers their only loss at Littlejohn Coliseum so far this year.

“It’s going to be really hard,” Brownell said. “It is going to be difficult situation, but you have to play these teams at some point. We have Pitt Tuesday and Carolina on Sunday. Guys that have followed me know that I’m a week-to-week guy. I kind of look at every week and kind of plan in my mind what we are going to do that week and how we are going to prepare for that week.

“I really don’t know who is after that and I don’t pay much attention to all of that. I do know we have five out of six (on the road. I saw that right when we got the schedule. A lot of teams have grinders where they have three out of four on the road at some point. I don’t know if there are many that have five out of six. I checked the schedules of most of the teams in the league and did not see a lot of five out of sixs, but having said that, it is what it is.”

After hosting Georgia Tech on Feb. 4, Clemson will hit the road again as it visits Syracuse (Feb. 9) and Notre Dame (Feb. 11) two days apart.

“We are going to have to find a lot of grit and we are going to have to show a lot of toughness, maturity, improvement and play exceptionally well to come out of this well,” Brownell said. “But that’s what is next and we will try to get ready for Pitt the best we can.”

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