EXCLUSIVE: ‘All-Out Team Effort’ Earns First ACC Win for Smith
CLEMSON, SC — Audra Smith isn’t necessarily the sentimental type, but as someone who cut her teeth in the Atlantic Coast Conference as both a player and a coach, she admitted getting her first ACC win as a head coach was a special feeling.
The way her team got it made her feel even better.
“You kind of get that monkey off your back, you’ve got that one, and now it’s time to, ‘Let’s go. Let’s keep moving forward and get a couple more — a lot more,’” Smith said after her Clemson women’s basketball team beat Pittsburgh 77-67 on Sunday.
Smith played at Virginia from 1988-92 and made three trips to the Final Four and won two ACC Championships during her playing days. She served on the coaching staff at her alma mater from 1994-2004 before earning her first head job at UAB.
Having dropped her first two conference games as the Lady Tigers’ first-year head coach, Smith notched her first victory in the league over the Panthers, as Clemson (9-8, 1-2 ACC) rallied from an early seven-point deficit to win going away.
“Basketball is a game of runs, and we knew we could make a run,” junior Charmaine Tay said. “ The ACC is the best conference in D-1 women’s basketball, so there’s going to be teams night in and night out making runs and playing hard, and (Smith) told us to just keep our composure and keep attacking, and if we keep doing that we’ll end up with the win, and we did.”
Junior guard Nikki Dixon led the way with 29 points and 11 rebounds — both career highs — while Kelly Gramlich and Tay joined her in double figures with 14 and 11 points, respectively.
“What I’m very proud of is the fact that everybody who played scored, everybody who played got a rebound, and it was an all-out team effort,” Smith said. “I’m proud of the way we stayed disciplined. I’m proud of the way they listened and the way we ran our offense. When we executed offensively and we attacked the basket, we got positive results.”
Nobody has attacked the basket better of late than Dixon, who posted a career high in scoring for the second straight game after she scored 26 points against Georgia Tech on Wednesday and has now topped 20 points in four of her last five games.
“One of my coaches texted me before the game and told me exactly what I had to do to win,” Dixon said, “and that was just to be aggressive offensively, rebounding, attacking, dishing to my teammates, using everybody — and that’s what we did. We got the win today, and all the pieces fell together.”
One of the key pieces was the sharpshooting Gramlich, who hit two three-pointers in the first 1:40 to give Clemson an early 8-5 lead and drained two more in the second half to help the Lady Tigers pull away.
“Kelly is invaluable because she stretches the defense,” Smith said. “She knocked down those four threes, and that was crucial for us.”
Tay was equally invaluable to the Lady Tigers. Starting a lineup with five guards, the versatile 5-foot-11 Tay allowed Smith the flexibility to play her in the post, which in turn allowed the team to play an up-tempo style against a Pitt team without a significant low-post threat.
“With Charmaine, I can’t say enough about that kid,” Smith said. “I’ve got her playing four positions. She goes from the point to the four, and she remembers everything, she knows where she’s supposed to be, and I can’t ask her to do any more for us.”
Tay reached double figures for the seventh time this season and filled the stat sheet with seven rebounds and four assists and also drew a charge in the first half.
“We had me and Chancie (Dunn) in the post, and it’s kind of been like those are our positions all season,” Tay said. “It’s not our real positions, but we’ve been adjusting to it and just doing what’s best for the team. She wanted to start five guards because they weren’t that big in size either, so it kind of matched up well. We were trying to get the running game going, and we had a lot of transition points and got them into foul trouble early, which helped us get to the line.”
Nyilah Jamison-Myers was another player who made a major contribution. Coming off the bench, the 6-foot-3 sophomore helped the Lady Tigers clean the defensive glass once they seized control of the game.
“I’m really happy for Nyilah,” Smith said. “Seven rebounds and eight points. That's important for us. If we can have an inside presence to put up eight to 10 points every night and grab some boards, then that's going to help us win the game.”
Clearly, the star of the show was Dixon, who scored the most points by a Lady Tiger since Kirstyn Wright also had 29 on Nov. 14, 2010, against Charleston Southern.
For someone who went more than a month without being in the starting lineup as Smith pushed her to buy into her system, Dixon spoke like the epitome of a team player after Sunday’s win.
“Our biggest thing is staying consistent,” Dixon said. “We just have to continue to listen to the game plan and work every day in practice and map it out during the game. That’s what we’ve been doing lately — just staying aggressive, listening to Coach for what the game plan is, literally from A to Z, from the first minute of the game to the last and just going out there and doing exactly what she tells us to do and hoping we win.”
With that, the Lady Tigers have the toughest task of Smith’s tenure ahead, as they’ll travel to 12th-ranked North Carolina on Thursday (6 p.m., ESPN3) in their next action.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Smith said, “and that’s the exciting part of the ACC — it doesn’t get easy. It’s a challenge every single night; it’s going to be a battle every single night. And the bottom line is, it really is anyone’s game.
“It’s anyone’s game. The proof is in the pudding with the performance our men put on the floor (against Duke) last night. Especially when you’re at home, you have to protect home court in the conference.”
And that’s exactly what Smith’s Lady Tigers were able to do Sunday.