The Clemson Tigers put on a clinic while dismantling the Davidson Wildcats in an 85-54 victory Friday night that pits the Tigers against Massachusetts in the finals of the Charleston Classic Sunday night.
Clemson shot an astonishing 61.1% from the field as it seemed everything that they threw up found the bottom of the net, including 52.6% from behind the arc. The performance put the idea in my head that maybe the new funds approved for the renovation of Littlejohn Coliseum should be used to transform the stadium into a TD Arena replica.
It started with the first shot as Landry Nnoko won the tip and Jaron Blossomgame promptly hit a spot up three from the top of the key to open the scoring. The sharpshooting Wildcats had ideas of their own, starting the game going 5-8 from the field to match Clemson's 4-6 start to take a 13-11 lead into the first television timeout.
From then on out, it was the K.J. McDaniels show. A driving layup with 13:30 left in the first half put Clemson ahead for good and sparked a wave of offense that we don't necessarily associate with Clemson Basketball. McDaniels finished the half 7-7 with 19 points and didn't miss his first shot of the game until the 15:22 mark of the second half.
On the other end of the court, Clemson's defense was suffocating all game, especially in a decisive 31-4 run spanning more than 12 minutes of the second half. I have never seen an offense more frustrated than the highly touted motion offense of the Davidson Wildcats. A night after scoring 94 points on 44.8% shooting, the Wildcats had to wait until there was only 7:48 remaining in the game to break 40 points with a Brian Sullivan three pointer. Clemson would comfortably lead the rest of the game on their way to their first 5-0 start since starting 16-0 in the 2008-09 season. (The season Clemson won the Inaugural Charleston Classic)
Let's start the player analysis with something that everybody who watched already knows. K.J. McDaniel was spectacular. While everyone was looking and waiting for the highlight reel dunks that "Dunk Man" is known for, K.J. shot his way to a career high 22 points going 8-9 from the field and 3-4 from behind the arc. (By the way, I agree with fellow STS writer Ryan Kantor; that is the worst nickname ever and needs to be left in Charleston when the Tigers travel back to Tiger Town)
Junior Damarcus Harrison wasn't going to be outshined by McDaniels, posting a career high of his own, 20 points going 8-10 from the field and 3-4 for three. Harrison also had the highlight of the night throwing down a perfectly thrown alley-oop pass from Jordan Roper with 8:08 remaining to bring Tiger fans at the TD Arena to their feet. McDaniels and Harrison combined for 42 points on 16-19 shooting. The only word I can think of to describe that performance is...wow.
It's worth noting that I am developing a man crush on junior point guard Rod Hall. Hall turned in 10 points himself on 4-5 shooting with 3 assists. Hall is one of the best in dribble penetration that I have seen for the Tigers since Ed Scott. I saw a considerable drop off in the offense when he was on the bench as his penetration and distribution are critical to the Clemson shooters. He calmly pulls the ball out to make sure that the Tigers run their sets, and has poise when the shot clock is running low to get to the basket and frequently draws contact.
Jaron Blossomgame continues to do nothing but impress me. Blossomgame had a quiet 7 points, but dominated on the boards, leading the team with 9 rebounds. He positions himself well under the basket and has a desire to grab the loose ball. What impressed me the most was his defensive coverage of Davidson's motion offense. Many times I saw him help the on ball screen, and then quickly find his man to contest the shot off of the screen and roll. I would like to see him demand the ball more at the elbow and look for the mid-range jumper, but I have no complaints over the play of this talented Red Shirt Freshman.
The offensive set that the Tigers run does not set up the big men for success. It is their responsibility to set the on ball screen at the top of the key for Rod Hall or Adonis Filer, and make a lackadaisical roll to the basket, not looking for nor expecting a return pass. You have seen that both Nnoko and Djitte only succeed offensively when they are fed the ball deep in the paint, and the offensive set does not set up this type of play. In 27 minutes tonight, the four big men combined for only 7 points.
Defensively, all of the Tiger big men were defending MUCH too high for my liking. I frequently disagreed with the analysis of commentator Len Elmore as he begged for the Tigers to defend the post from the side. In theory, this is correct, but Nnoko, Smith and Djitte just aren't quick enough to either deny the entry pass, or regain defensive position when the ball is entered into the post. As you watched the highlights of De'Mon Brooks' big first half, you frequently saw the Tiger defenders standing at the side straight up as Brooks went in uncontested or was fouled. They also are frequently looking for the block and are sacrificing defensive positioning because of it. It is a lot easier to block a shot from the side or from behind, but it is also a lot easier to foul, which was once again a problem for Nnoko getting in early foul trouble. You frequently saw the Tiger defenders try to front the post and deny the entry pass, but this failed as well and led to a comical text message from Ryan Kantor where he stated "Stop fronting me bro."
In the second half, I think you saw a changing in the guard at the backup center position. I think you will see Josh Smith on the bench a lot more as I saw another very poor performance on both ends of the court from him. Look for Djitte to assume the role and get more minutes behind Nnoko. I also loved the combination of the newcomers Djitte and Djambo on the floor together in the second half. They don't do much offensively, but they showed solid fundamental interior defense. (Although it is worth noting that this was after an ugly groin injury to De'Mon Brooks left Davidson with not much of a post threat)
The Tigers will look to win the Charleston Classic in an athletic matchup against the Massachusetts Minutemen at 9pm (ESPN2) on Sunday.