|by David Hood|
No. 1-seeded SMU (26-9) heads to Madison Square Garden to face third-seeded Clemson (23-12) in the NIT Semifinals on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2. SMU advanced with a 67-65 win against California after Nic Moore hit a game-winning three-pointer with 6.5 seconds left. Clemson defeated Belmont 73-68 a night earlier.
The teams are similar defensively – the Mustangs are seventh in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (1st American), holding opponents to 38.2%. The Mustang defense is allowing just 62.3 points per game, 24th in the NCAA (3rd American). SMU has held 29 of its last 44 (23 of 35 this year) opponents under 40% shooting. SMU has outrebounded 24 of 35 opponents this season.
Clemson leads the nation in field-goal percentage defense, but Brown said that McDaniels will be his main concern.
“He does everything. I don’t know of another player who leads his team in all statistical categories,” Brown said this past week. “Plus he is a great defender. He is one of the reasons they are one of the better defensive teams. People in the conference recognize him as one of the best players, and if you are regarded as one of the best players in the ACC then you are pretty special. He guards, he rebounds, blocks shots, gives the ball up, great athlete and competitive. He is terrific.”
Guard Ryan Manuel agreed that McDaniels will be a challenge, but he thinks the tougher defensive team will come out a winner.
“He will be a challenge on the defensive end, because he will be one of the best players we’ve seen this year,” Manuel said. “We have to key on him and make it a tough night for him. “I think it will be a slugfest. Both teams are going to have to dog it out on the offensive end and try to grind it out. Whoever comes out as the toughest team will get the victory. Hopefully, that’s us.”
However, Manuel doesn’t think the Mustangs will have much of a problem stopping Clemson’s offense.
“They are pretty strong defensively,” he said. “We have to make sure we stop him (McDaniels). Also, they are challenged to score offensively, so I think our defense will be able to contain them.”
Senior Nick Russell says the Mustangs just have to play the game they’ve played all season.
“We just have to play our game. We have to get stops, control the tempo, take good shots, get rebounds and defend,” Russell said. “The same things we have been doing all season. I sound like a broken record but we just have to do the same things we have been doing. Play hard, play harder than them and take care of the ball. I feel like we have been struggling with turnovers the past couple of games and we have gotten out to slow starts. So if we can come out and start fast and get into them early then we should have a good chance to win.”
CLEMSON (23-12) vs. SMU (26-9)
Tipoff: Tuesday, April 1 (7 p.m.)
Arena: Madison Square Garden (19,763)
Radio: CTSN (Pete Yanity-pbp; Tim Bourret-color)
TV: ESPN2 (John Saunders-pbp; Fran Fraschilla, Bob Knight-color)
David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org