Confidence from early season wins has Tigers playing well in close games
Once again, when Clemson needed to make a play in the closing moments at Wake Forest, someone stepped up and made one.
Clemson guard Marcquise Reed made two free throws with 3:39 to play to put the Tigers on top for good and then David Skara sank two more free throws of his own to extend the lead to three points. Reed later made a jumper from just above the foul line with 1:40 left that put the Tigers up four points.
From there Clemson (19-4, 8-3 ACC) made its last six free throws to seal its third straight win.
“Last year, it seemed like we could never make those plays when we needed to or the other team would have the ball last and they always seem to make the play,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “This year it has been different. Our guards have had a lot to do with that … maybe they are a little more hardened from their experiences. They are making plays and we are just finding ways to win.”
Brownell credits early road wins over Ohio State and Florida as reasons why his team has played so confidently down the stretch in close ball games. The Tigers are 6-1 so far this season in games decided by five points or less.
“In the Ohio State game early in the season, we were down nine points a couple of different times early in the game and our guys kept playing and actually won the game kind of going away,” the Clemson coach said Monday as part of the ACC Coaches’ Teleconference. “So I think that gave our team some confidence early and it kind of happened again down at Florida where we were trailing a bunch in the game.”
The Tigers, who don’t play again until Thursday when they host Pitt at 7 p.m., trailed the entire game against Florida before rallying late in the closing seconds to get the win.
“Guys just kind of kept their head down and played,” Brownell said. “We really did not worry about the score until the last couple of minutes. Guys just kept playing for the next play. Because of our wins and our comebacks, the guys gained some confidence from that and it has probably helped our guys once we got into conference play.”
It definitely has. Clemson is off to its best start in the ACC in 21 years and currently sits in second place in the ACC standings.
The Tigers also moved up in both the Associated Press and Coaches Polls on Monday. They are ranked No. 16 in the AP and 15 in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll. Clemson has a No. 4 RPI ranking heading into this week’s action.
After the Pitt game, the Tigers are off until they play at Florida State on Valentine’s Day.
—Photo Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports