By Philip Sikes // Athletic Communications
CLEMSON, S.C. — All fans of college basketball clamor these types of matchups. Since he’s been the head coach at Clemson, Brad Brownell has tried his best to schedule them.
Much like the home-and-home series with perennial power Arizona a few years ago, Clemson welcomes Arkansas to town for a marquee non-conference showdown. And just like the Wildcats, the Razorbacks (6-1) come to Littlejohn Coliseum for Sunday’s 5 p.m. tipoff carrying a top-25 national ranking.
“We schedule these types of games to attract energy and atmosphere,” said Brownell, whose team hopes to quickly bounce back from a five-point loss to Rutgers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. “This is one of the premier programs in the country; they’ve won a national championship. This isn’t an easy game to schedule. We hope our fans will come out and support us.”
The Tigers (4-3) have seen an ACC-high five of their seven games decided by five points or less. In all seven, Clemson led with less than 10 minutes to play.
Brownell said the biggest culprit for his team’s up and down play has been on defense, the program’s calling card in four previous seasons under his direction.
“Our minds have gotten away from what helps us win,” he said. “We haven’t defended at a very high level most games. We have had some very good first halves. But we’ve struggled in the second, where sometimes we have difficulty scoring and it breaks our will a little bit.”
Despite some of the team’s inconsistencies, there have been flashes of solid play. All five starters average 9.1 points per game or better, a big improvement from 2013-14. Starting two-guard Damarcus Harrison is averaging a career-high 11.9 points per game to lead the team, while Jaron Blossomgame has posted three straight double-doubles, a first by a Tiger since Trevor Booker in 2008-09.
Clemson’s will is going to be put to the test against an Arkansas team ranked 18th in the latest Associated Press poll. The Razorbacks dropped their first game of the season Thursday on the road against Iowa State, but feature a lineup of 10 players averaging double-figure minutes. Bobby Portis leads the Hogs with 15.1 points per game, followed by highlight-reel Michael Qualls at 14.6.
“Bobby Portis is an out of this world talent,” Brownell said. “He’s 6-10 and can shoot. Michael Qualls is a fantastic athlete and perimeter scorer. Rashad Madden is a senior point guard. It’s an older team, one with experience. Offensively, they move the ball and are very unselfish.”
And defensively, of course, Mike Anderson’s style is predicated on harassing the opponent with an array of full-court pressures he learned as an assistant under Hall of Fame coach Nolan Richardson.
Clemson’s ball handling will be placed under heavy duress versus the Razorbacks defense. Because Arkansas proclaims itself the ‘Fastest 40,’ Brownell noted the game will have a back-and-forth pace and should create plenty of excitement for the fans.
“It will be an entertaining game,” he said. “Arkansas plays high-possession games, so it will be more up and down. We’ll need to make some good decisions in this game.”
Sunday’s game is designated Scout Day, where Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts dressed in uniform can redeem a free ticket at the East Gate Box Office for admission … the first 500 Clemson students through the gate receive a free t-shirt courtesy of University Village.
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