Clemson making progress has it heads into annual rivalry game

Clemson making progress has it heads into annual rivalry game

Basketball

Clemson making progress has it heads into annual rivalry game

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Tigers, Gamecocks starting to get healthy

Clemson heads into today’s game against rival South Carolina starting to feel better about where it is as a team and its health.

Head coach Brad Brownell told the media on Friday there is a chance senior guard Marcquise Reed could play against the Gamecocks when the two teams tip off at two o’clock this afternoon at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia. Reed has missed the last three games with a knee injury.

If Reed is to return, he adds to a roster that is getting healthier by the day. After a month of dealing with nagging injuries, Clemson center Elijah Thomas says he is close to being 100-percent healthy. His numbers in the last three games back that up as he has scored 18, 15 and 25 points against Mississippi State, Radford and Charleston Southern.

Thomas missed two games and battled through an ankle injury and a deep bone bruise during the first month of the season. He suffered the injuries in the preseason.

Preseason injuries also caused the Tigers (8-3) to be without freshman center Trey Jemison and reserve forward Malik William. They both just recently returned to action.

Brownell has said since the start of the season the injuries, and lack of depth because of the injuries, have been difficult to fight through especially in practice.

“Your practices are not as good, so you are not competing against each other as hard as you need to and then when you get in very challenging games, guys break down because they are not used to doing it this much,” he said.

The story has kind of been the same for the Gamecocks, who have struggled through the first 10 games of the year. South Carolina comes into today’s game with a 4-6 record, but like Clemson, it has played a good portion of its season without a lot of banged up players.

“Really, it is hard for both of us,” Brownell said. “I think you could see there are times when just the rhythm and timing of your team is not as good as it should be. You are not as confident because you have guys out there that are not as confident.”

Brownell said he noticed the difference in his team’s confidence in last year’s game against the Gamecocks compared to this year when he was watching the game earlier this week. The Tigers opened last year 12-1 in non-conference games.

“We looked like a confident team. It was just evident,” the Clemson coach said. “Coach Simmons, one of our new coaches, he said that jumped off the page. Our guys were pretty poised and very comfortable and confident, aggressive. We did not always make good plays, but there was no hesitation.

“So, I think when you don’t have everybody practicing (it hurts), and Frank (Martin) is going through the same thing.”

Despite the injuries in Columbia, Brownell thinks the Gamecocks are starting to come around and he does not want people to be fooled by their 4-6 record. Their last two losses are at No. 4 Michigan and to No. 5 Virginia.

“They are playing better. They’ve played really well in the last week,” Brownell said. “Michigan and Virginia are teams that can be in the Final Four. They had good opportunities in both games. I think Frank is getting his guys more comfortable and he is getting them to play more like the way he wants them to play.”

South Carolina lost by 11 points at Michigan on Dec. 8, and then earlier this week played the first 30 minutes toe-to-toe with the Cavaliers before Virginia pulled away in the final 10 minutes in Columbia.

“They are kind of understanding some things,” Brownell said. “I thought they played incredibly well against Michigan up there. That was really impressive when you watched really how the game was played. The flow of the game and some of the decisions their guys made. And the competitive fight in a difficult environment.

“Similar, I thought they played well for a good part of the Virginia game. The Virginia guys are just so good, and their guards are so good that they made a couple of big time plays and shots to get away from it.”

Brownell says the Gamecocks are what you expect from a Frank Martin coached team.

“His teams continue to get better the longer the year goes,” Brownell said. “He is playing a lot of young guys so when you are playing young guys like that … for those guys to play the way they did in those two games, to me, shows me they are making a lot of progress.”

Just like Clemson has shown in recent weeks, too.

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