|by David Hood|
The Tigers lost Devin Booker and Milton Jennings – the team’s lone seniors and leading scorers – to graduation after last season, a season that saw the Tigers lose 10 out of their last 11 games. Entering this season, Brownell would have to depend on two juniors in Rod Hall and K.J. McDaniels to lead a group of freshmen and sophomores that would have to learn on the job, not always an easy task in the new ACC.
Entering this weekend’s play, however, the Tigers are 16-9 overall and 7-6 in the ACC, good for sixth place in the conference standings, a full game behind fifth-place Pitt (8-5) and a half-game ahead of seventh-place Maryland (7-7).
Saturday, the Tigers travel to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech in a must-win game for a team aiming for 20 wins and trying to stay out of the Wednesday games at the ACC Tournament in two weeks.
Brownell said on Friday that he understands his team has defied the odds, but also understands that his team still has to go out and finish games.
“We have not worried about those things,” Brownell said. “We have used it a little bit as motivation. I don’t think we have made a huge deal about it. We have certainly talked about it. We thought we were better than what we were picked. But it does not matter what you think, you have to go play.”
Clemson snapped a three-game skid Tuesday with a resounding 73-56 win over a top-60 RPI team in NC State, and the Tigers topped their season-high point total against an ACC team (72 vs. Duke). Clemson goes for its ninth consecutive win over Georgia Tech on Saturday; the Tigers have won each of the last three meetings between the two programs in Atlanta.
Brownell said that the fact that his team still has something to play for at this stage of the season is a credit to the players he has on his roster.
“The thing our guys deserve credit for is playing hard,” Brownell said. “I think we have played hard most nights and have given ourselves opportunities. We have competed, we have been together and we have stuck together. Obviously, some guys have gotten a little bit better and guys have accepted their roles. We are far from being a really good team, but we are a competitive team and when we play well and we have some offensive spurts, we can be a challenge. Thirteen games in, we have proved that.”
CLEMSON (16-9, 7-6 ACC) vs. GEORGIA TECH (13-13, 4-9 ACC)
Tipoff: 12 p.m.
Arena: McCamish Pavilion (8,600)
Radio: CTSN (Pete Yanity-pbp; Tim Bourret-color)
TV: RSN (Wes Durham-pbp; Dave Odom-color)
CU Series W-L record: Clemson leads 64-59
Streak: Clemson has won the last eight meetings
• Last season at McCamish Pavilion, Clemson won 63-60 after Milton Jennings blocked the tying shot in the final seconds.
• In the first meeting on Feb. 4, Clemson won 45-41 in an odd game. The team’s top players, Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels and Tech’s Marcus Hunt, combined to shoot 4-of-27 from the field. Also, Georgia Tech was down regular contributors in Trae Golden and Robert Carter Jr. due to injuries.
• Clemson’s three-point percentage defense (.275) is on pace to establish a single-season school record. The previous best was .294 in 2009-10. The Tigers currently rank fourth among NCAA teams in defending the three.
• K.J. McDaniels, coming off a six-block effort against NC State, is on pace for the best per game average (2.88) by a Tiger since Sharone Wright in 1993-94.
• Rod Hall scored a career-high 20 points against NC State; he had the best perfect free throw shooting of his career vs. the ‘Pack (8-for-8 at the line).
• Damarcus Harrison is coming off his best offensive output since November; he posted 14 in the win over NC State on Tuesday.
David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org