CLEMSON, SC – Brad Brownell has often said it’s not always about who you play, but when you play them. He made that statement again Tuesday, but on the surface it doesn’t seem to bode well for his Clemson team going into the ACC Tournament.
The 11th-seeded Tigers (13-17) come in having lost their last six games, while their first-round foe, sixth-seeded Florida State, has won three of four, including wins over NC State and Virginia, which Brownell called “two (NCAA) tournament teams.”
“I think they are playing well and feeling very good about themselves, so I think they will come into the game with some swagger and confidence – and obviously there are some guys there that cut down the nets at that place last year,” Brownell said of FSU. “Having said that, for us, I think our team has continued to practice pretty well. I think guys are approaching things the right way, but we need to shoot a little bit better and finish some things better to win some games.”
The point Brownell was making with the aforementioned axiom is his team’s losing streak has been due to the cumulative effect of some of the losses within the skid and not an indication his team has given up on the season.
Brownell cited Clemson’s most recent game, on the road against a Miami team that was playing for a league title, as evidence of his team’s resiliency. Even having little to play for themselves, the Tigers were tied with the Hurricanes at 25-25 going into halftime before fading in the second half.
“Our guys were fighting and scratching, and I think we’ve done that by and large most games,” Brownell said. “We’d like to have beaten Virginia Tech and Boston College. We probably should have won one of those games in some way or another … but I’m not ashamed of the way our team has competed. We just haven’t been good enough, and I haven’t been able to find a way to help them win.”
Florida State (17-14) won both meetings with the Tigers during the regular season, but the games were only decided by a combined eight points. In the meeting at FSU on Jan. 24, Seminoles star guard Michael Snaer banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer to lift his team to the win.
Clemson big man Devin Booker, who was named a third-team All-ACC selection this week, said the competitive nature of the previous meetings gives the Tigers confidence they could win Thursday night.
“I believe we’re pretty much capable of beating anybody, not just Florida State,” he said. “But we do have a great chance because we hung in there with them both times.”
Booker said the biggest problem the Tigers have had during their recent skid was not defending as well as they had earlier in the season, but he remained confident they were capable of putting together a run this week in Greensboro, NC.
“We’ve just got to have a positive mindset,” Booker said. “We’ve got a losing streak going, and we definitely need to turn things around. This will be our chance to do it right here.”
Brownell said sophomore K.J. McDaniels, the team’s second-leading scorer, is about “90 percent” as he recovers from an ankle injury. McDaniels scored nine points in the regular season finale and led the Tigers with six rebounds and three blocks.
“I thought he gave us some quality minutes at Miami,” Brownell said. “He’s certainly good enough to be out there competing and not risk any further injury.”
With that, Brownell knows the Tigers have one advantage on their side heading into the tournament – the element of surprise.
“Nobody expects us to probably win a game,” he said. “We haven’t won a game in a while; it’s been tough. But we’re going to go in and approach it the right way and prepare really hard, and hopefully our players will play a little better, our coaches will coach a little better and we’ll find a way to win.”
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