Playing basketball for Brad Brownell is a little different than most college coaches. You have to be willing to play a little defense, too.
No one on Clemson’s basketball team does that better than center Elijah Thomas, who had seven of the Tigers’ 10 blocks in a 64-37 win over Wake Forest on Sunday.
“Everyone likes scoring. That’s the new era for basketball now, but Brad Brownell basketball is defense. If we want to win, we’ve got to abide by his rules and play defense better.”
Clemson (13-8, 3-5 ACC) had its best game from a defensive standpoint in their win over the Demon Deacons. Wake’s 37 points matched the lowest scored by an ACC opponent in the Brownell era and tied for the second lowest overall.
Thomas played a big role in why the Tigers held the Deacons to 16 points in the paint despite having 18 offensive rebounds.
“Sometimes he is our advantage in different ways,” Brownell said. “Today, he was just really sound defensively to have the blocks, because he is not this tremendous jumper that is blocking shots on the board and that kind of stuff.
“A lot of times it is timing, where he is blocking the shot of the guy he is guarding and it takes tremendous timing. When he is doing a good job of that, he can be problematic for the other team.”
Thomas was very problematic for the Demon Deacons.
Wake (8-13, 1-8 ACC) shot just 23.7 percent from the field, including 20.6 percent in the second half. It turned the ball over 16 times, eight of which were steals. Thomas had one of those steals.
Overall, the senior played 26 minutes and had just one foul, which came early in the game.
“Being able to stay in the game and finish with one foul was pretty cool,” Thomas said. “I have actually been trying to work on staying in games because, just like when everybody else hates it when I get in foul trouble, I hate it when I get in foul trouble.”
Thomas staying on the floor more lifted the Tigers’ energy on the defensive end in the Wake Forest game.
“Certainly it helped having Eli in there because when there are mistakes made, he has a better chance than other guys on our team of erasing a mistake,” Brownell said. “Those are special players that can do that, and he certainly is that.”
Thomas also played well on the offensive end. He tallied 23 points, just three short of his career high, while tying his career mark with 10 field goals. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound senior made 10 of 11 field goals.
“I give my teammates all the credit,” he said. “They got me the ball in the right spots.”
Thomas finished the game with 10 rebounds as well, recording his sixth double-double of the season and his 17 of his career. Clemson is 13-4 when Thomas has a double-double.
“That is why being in foul trouble kind of hurts me because I know the team needs me out there,” Thomas said. “I try to carry guys, set the tone defensively, rebound and get those guys buckets off my screens. I can name all day the things that I can do to help our team and the way they help me.
“Not being able to be out there sometimes and miss minutes, it kind of hurts me. I think being being out there and being able to play defense, it is pretty cool.”
–Joanne Bethea contributed to this story
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