For the first time in six seasons, the Clemson Tigers (10-2) have won eight straight games and, coming off of a dominant 87-73 victory over the UNC Wilmington Seahawks (11-2), are heading into the conference slate with plenty of positive momentum. Bolstered by a healthy Shelton Mitchell, as well as the addition of newcomer Elijah Thomas, the Tigers have played their best basketball of the season these past two weeks and appear primed to make some noise in the ACC.
Clemson head coach Brad Brownell is pleased with the way that his team has played as of late, saying after Wednesday night’s victory, “We took care of the ball reasonably well. We also made good decisions against the break. We talked about ‘go versus flow’ and when to go and try to attack, but then when to try to flow into offense. And I thought we had a good mix of both. Again, I’m pleased with the win. This was a good performance by our team.”
The “flow” that Brownell referenced is a perfect descriptor for Clemson’s offense in the month of December, as the abundance of playmakers on the roster has allowed the Tigers’ scoring opportunities to develop quite fluidly. It is worth noting that both of Clemson’s losses occurred without the services of Mitchell and Thomas and also were byproducts of a lineup in the process of jelling.
Needless to say, that lineup, complete with the leadership of floor general Mitchell and the energy of the fiery Thomas, is definitely jelling at the right time.
“It’s been a team that’s had to adjust. We’re fortunate that we’re older,” Brownell said of the early adversity that the Tigers were forced to endure. “Shelton’s injury at the beginning of the season set us back a little bit because we practiced all fall with him as our point guard, and I think you’ve seen what kind of a difference he can make for us. And we played without Elijah up until the last three games, and he showed why his value is high. He has great hands and finishes around the rim and gets his hands on balls to block shots.”
Arguably the most complete Clemson squad of Brownell’s tenure, the Tigers are dangerous on both ends of the floor. With veterans Jaron Blossomgame and Donte Grantham leading the scoring front and Mitchell and Avry Holmes serving as great complements of one another in the backcourt, Clemson is firing on all cylinders thanks to the diverse skill sets that its key players bring to the table.
When addressing his team’s gradual ascension throughout non-conference play, Brownell again has been pleased.
“I just think it’s continual daily improvement,” he said. “Just being smart, building our flow, building our different lineups and guys adjusting to each other.”
Though laden with upperclassmen, this year’s Clemson team, understandably, required an adjustment period of sorts early on, as multiple transfers and first-year starters were expected to contribute from the season’s inception.
Utilizing non-conference action to make those necessary adjustments, the Tigers have reaped the fruits of their labor with impressive wins over Alabama, South Carolina and UNC Wilmington in the last 10 days alone. However, they are not yet satisfied and instead are anxious to continue their upswing as ACC play unfolds.
“I think we’re playing really good,” Mitchell opined following the triumph over the Seahawks, “but I think we can still take it to another level.”
Taking it to another level could be a reasonable expectation game in and game out for the remainder of what has the makings of being a special season in Tigertown. That drive for continued improvement that Brownell addressed has fueled the Tigers thus far and should continue to fuel them throughout the regular season portion of the ACC schedule.
“We really just look at the bigger picture,” Mitchell said of his team’s motivation. “We want to make it to the (NCAA) Tournament, and the more wins we keep on racking up, the more it helps.”
Set to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (9-4) on Saturday in an early road test to tip off ACC play, the Tigers will be aiming to increase that eight-game winning streak by maintaining a similar level of relentlessness.