The Clemson Tigers returned to action eleven days after a heartbreaking loss at Auburn to take on the VMI Keydets at Littlejohn Coliseum on Tuesday night. It was the Tigers final non-conference game of the year before the start of ACC play, and a last chance at preparing for the rigors of ACC play.
Much was made of the contrasting styles of play between the Tigers and Keydets. Clemson came in touting the nations leading defense, while VMI entered with the NCAA's third leading scoring attack. As the commentators stated before the game, "something has to give." As interesting as the match-up was, Clemson has played the tempo game before, mainly against UMASS in the Charleston Classic. Even though the Tigers came up short, that experience would prove valuable on Monday.
Clemson once again boasted a new starting lineup with Jordan Roper getting the start, and leading scorer K.J. McDaniels starting the game on the bench. This has been common place for the Tigers as they still seem to be getting their rotations together and experimenting to find the hot hand for the evening.
The game began like we expected with VMI pushing the tempo and seeming to shoot the ball whenever they got within 40 feet of the basket. Clemson focused on penetrating from the perimeter and dishing to the inside. During the first five minutes of the game, the teams felt each other out, and Clemson struggled offensively as they attempted to make the difficult extra pass a little too frequently and as a result, committed turnovers.
At the 13 minute mark, VMI began to find its offensive rhythm. Julain Eleby made a layup before QJ Peterson rattled off 7 straight points for the Keydets including three pointers on back to back possessions to stretch the VMI lead to eight at 19-11. Adonis Filer stopped the bleeding my taking a feed from McDaniels and burying a three to trim the lead.
With Clemson struggling offensively and down seven after the second television timeout, Jordan Roper took over scoring six of the next eight points, his last two a mid range jumper that would give Clemson the lead 23-21 with 5:52 remaining prompting a VMI timeout to regroup. The teams traded baskets for the remainder of the half while a Landry Nnoko dunk gave the tigers a slim one point lead going into the half, 32-31.
The second half is what makes this team so much fun and so incredibly frustrating to watch. It's hard to believe that a team can just flip a switch and go from playing so poorly to looking like a new basketball team. Jordan Roper would again provide the spark at the 17 minute mark starting a 10-0 Tiger run, capped off with a 3-pointer with 15:23 remaining to stretch the Tiger lead to 46-35.
It was Clemson's turn to turn up the Defense. With VMI averaging 89.5 points per game, Clemson began to dial up the pressure forcing three consecutive turnovers after VMI had cut the lead to 6. Clemson would then go on a deciding 9-0 run lead by K.J. McDaniels, who was silent most of the game with foul trouble to put the game out of reach, emphasized by a McDaniels dunk to put Clemson ahead 57-44 with just over 8 minutes to play. Clemson would cruise the rest of the way to a 80-50 victory.
Jordan Roper would lead the way for Clemson matching a career high with 19 points, and adding 8 rebounds and 2 assists. Rod Hall would add 14 points of 6-11 shooting, Adonis Filer added 12 and Landry Nnoko rounded out the double figure scorers for the Tigers with 11 pints and six rebounds.
The 50 point performance from VMI was their lowest of the season while the Clemson defense, once again, got the best of their opponent. While they did get 73 shots up, they shot only 28.8% on the night, and shot an awful 3-28 from behind the arc.
Two of VMI's leading scorers, QJ Peterson and Rodney Glasqow were held to 4-31 shooting on the night, and shot 2-18 from behind the three point line to finish with only 13 points between the two. D.J. Covington led the Keydets with 20 points.
I remain frustrated with another new starting lineup for Clemson. Using K.J. McDaniels off the bench just didn't make much sense. I understand that Coach Brownell wants to tinker with the rotation, but we are at the point in the season where the rotation needs to be set and you need to know who you can depend on. McDaniels entered the game fairly quickly, but never found his rhythm and found himself in very early foul trouble picking up two quick fouls to put him back on the bench.
That being said, I do understand that Brownell may have to do this all season because you just don't know where the scoring is going to be coming from each night. The inconsistency is going to lead to a lot of new pairings, and a lot of frustrating scoring droughts throughout the season. Lets hear your thoughts on the rotations in the comments section.
With Devin Coleman deciding not to return to the team after the Winter break, it appears that Adonis Filer will see his minutes increase, as he played 29 tonight. Filer scored 12 points with six assists, but did have three turnovers as at times he appears to be moving to quickly for the offense. Look for Brad Brownell to coach him up and get him to buy into the system as he will be counted on for key minuets in ACC play.
Clemson will open ACC play at home on January 4th as the Boston College Eagles travel to Littlejohn Coliseum. Stay tuned for a non-conference wrap up by Ryan Kantor to analyze just how the Tigers performed before starting conference play in the new year.