Exclusive: Tigers Hanging Their Hats on Defensive End
CLEMSON, SC - Brad Brownell has said his young Clemson team might need to hang its hat on the defensive end until its offense catches up. If so, it certainly hung it well in Monday's opener against Presbyterian.
The Tigers (1-0) held the Blue Hose (0-1) to 30.2 percent shooting from the floor, as they quickly put to rest any worries about an early season upset by jumping out to a 27-7 lead and rolling to a 77-44 victory at Littlejohn Coliseum.
"That's pretty much our game - the defensive end," senior big man Devin Booker said. "We get up on people and just rowdy them up and make them turn the ball over, and I think we did a good job of that tonight."
That was particularly the case on the perimeter. Clemson limited PC's three starters in the backcourt - Austin Anderson, Khalid Mutakabbir and Ryan Downing - to a combined 4-of-29 from the floor and 14 points, including three from Mutakabbir, a preseason All-Big South selection who averaged 13.7 points per game a year ago.
"That was a big key for us coming in," Brownell said. "We knew their perimeter guys were good three-point shooters, and Mutakabbir especially can make shots. Austin Anderson can make a three when he's open. So we really tried to work hard. That was the plan, and our guys did a good job of following it."
After graduating a four-man class that included stalwarts Andre Young and Tanner Smith, Clemson returned just two seniors this year in Milton Jennings and Booker to lead a roster otherwise comprised entirely of underclassmen - seven sophomores and five freshmen.
But Clemson's inexperience hardly showed Monday, as it raced out to a 38-21 edge at halftime, taking that margin into the locker room by virtue of a long jumper at the buzzer by Jennings, who agreed the Tigers had set the tone early on defense.
"We did a good job as a team of holding their best players to nothing, pretty much," he said.
Like the veterans they are, Jennings and Booker led the way for the Tigers, with the former finishing with 15 points and six rebounds - both team-highs - and the latter joining him in double figures with 11 points, as well as five rebounds.
"Defense is going to be our thing this year," Jennings said. "Coming into this season, people have been asking, ‘How are they going to score?' But we're doing a tremendous job of scoring, and on top of that we're playing such great defense that we're getting easy layups and fast breaks off the steals and it's just leading to good offense."
Guard Jordan Roper also finished in double figures with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting, while 10 of the 12 players on Clemson's roster scored on the night, including four - Roper, Adonis Filer, Damarcus Harrison and Landry Nnoko - who saw their first action in a Tiger uniform.
"I thought they did well," Brownell said of his newcomers. "They didn't have to play in any difficult situations, though. They were playing with a lead all night, so it was pretty comfortable for them."
And that was in large part because of the effort the Tigers put in on the defensive end, where they finished with seven steals and 10 blocks - four of those by K.J. McDaniels - in smothering the Blue Hose from the onset.
According to McDaniels, Brownell has spent plenty of time in the weeks leading up to Monday's game making sure the Tigers were ready to go defensively.
"He stresses it every day," McDaniels said. "In practice, we're constantly on defense, and that's what we want to be known for - our defense, not our offense. We're all young and have a lot of energy, so I believe our defense will help us with our offense."