GREENSBORO, N.C. – K.J. McDaniels has been raking in the accolades hand over fist the past couple days, but his coach knows McDaniels’ teammates need to share the plaudits if Clemson’s time at the ACC Tournament is to last beyond the next couple.
“We’re going to have to have a couple guys offensively get hot,” Head Coach Brad Brownell said. “Somebody’s going to have to shoot the ball well, whether it’s Jordan Roper or Damarcus Harrison. We need a couple of guys. It can’t be just K.J. doing his thing.
“Rod Hall has to (play well). You have to have other players have consistently good games to do well in an event that’s three or four days in a row.”
Brownell has frequently told anyone who would listen he wants Clemson to hang its hat on the defensive end of the floor, and that won’t change this week in Greensboro. He also knows the point of basketball is to put the ball through the hoop.
“Offensively, we’ve gotten better through the course of the year, guys have started to make a few more shots, and it’s been good to see,” he said. “Landry Nnoko has gotten better and helped us a little bit (in the post). We’re still nowhere near being a juggernaut, but we’ve improved through the course of the year, and that’s part of the reason we’ve done as well as we have in the league.”
On defense, the Tigers undoubtedly have a solid cornerstone for their foundation in junior wingman McDaniels, who was named the program’s first-ever ACC Defensive Player of the Year on Tuesday, one day after becoming its 12th All-ACC first-teamer.
Even at only 6-foot-6, McDaniels’ length and athleticism make him the conference’s preeminent shot-blocker – he leads the ACC in blocks for the second straight year at 2.77 per game – and he’s been a force on the glass all season, ranking seventh in overall rebounds per game (7.1) and eighth in defensive rebounds per game (4.7).
“Over the years he improved on his defense,” point guard and junior classmate Hall said. “Coach stayed on him. He knew he could play good offense, but he just wanted him to play better defense. And he worked hard at it, and he got a lot better at it. He makes a lot of blocks and saves a lot of baskets for us.”
As the team held practice ahead of the conference tourney Tuesday evening at the Greensboro Coliseum, where they will open play Thursday night, the Tigers didn’t know whom they would face in that opener.
Clemson (19-11, 10-8) has a first-round bye as the tournament’s No. 6 seed and will face the winner of the opening-round meeting between No. 11 Georgia Tech and No. 14 Boston College.
Either way, they have ample cause for confidence.
Clemson went 3-0 against the Eagles and Yellow Jackets during the regular season, winning at Boston College 62-60 in its ACC opener and sweeping Georgia Tech, 45-41 at home and 63-55 in Atlanta.
“We really can’t think about that because everybody gets better as time goes on,” Hall said. “They watch film and work on what they did poorly and what they did well. You’ve just got to come and play your ‘A’ game.”
But the Tigers also have good reason to believe they can advance even beyond that, as the winner of Thursday’s contest faces No. 3 seed Duke, which they defeated 72-59 in January at Littlejohn Coliseum.
While Clemson can take some assurance from those previous performances, it will need a measure of fortitude to bounce back from the way its regular season ended – an 83-78 overtime loss to Pitt that would’ve secured the tournament’s fifth seed.
But after leading by as many as 11 points in the first half, Clemson saw its lead slip away after halftime, and the Panthers tied the game three times in the second half, including as the final buzzer sounded.
“We’ve moved forward from Pitt,” Hall said. “We’ve talked about it a little bit, but we didn’t watch any film or anything like that. We’re just trying to move on to the new season we’ve got starting Thursday.”
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