By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Landry Nnoko was not happy that he sat all but five minutes on the bench in the first half of Clemson’s first-round victory over Georgia State last Tuesday. After receiving two early fouls, the 6-foot-10, 250-pound center felt helpless as he watched Georgia State attack the Clemson goal over and over again without him in there.
“All I could do was sit and watch and cheer on my teammates,” Nnoko said.
The sophomore played most of the last 20 minutes against Georgia State, shutting down the inside while recording two blocks and disrupting even more plays around the basket. If the Tigers are going to advance past Illinois in the second-round of the NIT on Sunday they will need Nnoko to be on the floor.
The Illini (20-14) have a 6-foot-11, 250-pound center of their own in Nnanna Egwu, who is averaging 6.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Also like Nnoko, he too guards the basket on the defensive end.
“He is a good player,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “Their big guy—Egwu—can do a lot of the same things Landry can. He is a guy that really defends the rim for them. He has good feet, good size and is physical.
“He is probably a little better shooter than Landry right now, but both guys have blossomed this year and have done good things,”
Nnoko has been very productive in his sophomore year at Clemson. He has scored six times as many points and made six times as many field goals as his freshman year. He also has 50 more offensive rebounds this season than in 2012-’13.
When he is on the floor he has the second-plus minus value on the team, as the Tigers (21-12) outscore their opponents by an average of 5.0 points per game.
“As a freshman I was involved with the program, but not as much as this year. I feel like whenever I’m on the court, I can impact the game by how hard I play,” Nnoko said. “As a freshman it was hard because I had Devin Booker in front of me and I could not establish that.
“This year, I feel like when I get myself or my teammates going, we are going to have a really, really good game.”
The biggest stat however is his defense. Nnoko has 50 more blocked shots than last season.
“I think he has always been solid at it,” Brownell said “I think some of the added strength has helped him in terms of holding people off. He has always had good feet which was something we saw in him when we recruited him. He has had good length so we knew that in terms of guarding some ball screens and blocking a shot or two around that rim that we had confidence he was going to be doing that around the rim.
“As he has gained more confidence as the season has gone on, he is trying to do more things. As a coach you want players to do that. You want them to step out of bounds a little bit and try to do more things if they are going to take the next step as a player. Landry is in that process right now.”
Nnoko says he takes pride in his defense and he always has.
“Defending has always been my strength,” he said. “I think it was one of the reasons why Coach Brownell recruited me here. Coach Brownell really liked the way I defended in the post. I improved by playing a lot and gaining valuable experience going against the bigs in the ACC. It kind of helped me thicken up a little bit as the year went along.”
And has his confidence grows, so too has his toughness. Nnoko has taken a “No one can come in my house” mentality, something he showed quite often with his six blocks against Georgia Tech and his three against Duke in the ACC Tournament.
“That look, all the guys on the team have it,” Nnoko said. “We’re just coming in and fighting and proving what we can do it.”