After a week off for exams, the Clemson Tigers (8-2) returned to action on Saturday night and dismantled the Furman Paladins (4-6) by a final score of 71-35. You never know how a team is going to respond during exam week and with time off after a hard fought loss at Arkansas, but Coach Brad Brownell had his team ready to go at the tip off as the Tigers cruised in dominating fashion.
Once again, the Tigers featured a new starting lineup featuring Rod Hall, Jordan Roper, K.J. McDaniels, Ibrahim Djambo and Landry Nnoko. This was the Tigers fourth different starting lineup in four games as Brownell is still tinkering with his rotation during non-league play. Tonight you would see wholesale substitutions as Brownell decided that he would run with two teams of five players coming on and off the floor together.
The game got underway for the Tigers like you would expect against a smaller mid-major as they immediately looked to go inside to Landry Nnoko. Nnoko scored the Tigers first 6 points of the game as the guards took advantage of his height and threw perfect over the top passes for easy layups. It looked like the strategy was clear as the Tigers first 10 points came from within five feet of the basket as Clemson jumped out to a 10-7 lead.
At the 14:04 mark, Clemson showed their first wholesale substitution of the night bringing in a fresh five of Damarcus Harrison, Devin Coleman Adonis Filer, Sidy Djitte and Jaron Blossomgame. Frequent substitutes are something that we expect from the Tigers as they have ten players averaging double digits in minutes this year, but this is the first time that I have seen Clemson seem to be sticking with two teams. I'm interested to see if this is a long term strategy as I am not crazy about the fact that K.J. McDaniels and Damarcus Harrison were split up as Harrison seems to feed off of McDaniels.
Despite the fresh legs on the court, Furman was hanging around with Clemson as the score remained 11-9 in favor of the Tigers after the first wholesale substitution. The second team immediately ignited a spark from Devin Coleman as he nailed a three pointer from the corner. After Stephen Croone answered for Furman, Coleman would fake the three from the corner and drive to the basket for an acrobatic layup to make the lead 16-11 at the 12:03 mark, going into the second television timeout.
Furman would continue to hang on. Shooting 50 percent from the field in the first 10 minutes of the game, the Paladins seemed to be getting to the basket easy. As Furman would set the on ball screen and draw the Clemson big man up on the switch, the cutter would immediately set an off ball screen opening up a player for an open jumper or drive to the basket as Clemson scrambled to switch. A Keith Belfield three pointer would cut the lead to 3 at 18-15 with 10:14 left in the half.
At this point, Clemson had decided that it had had enough. After Jordan Roper sank three free throws after being fouled on a corner three, the Clemson shooters would wake up and begin to put the game out of reach. Damarcus Harrison hit an 18 footer and followed on the next possession with two free throws to stretch the lead to 8 before Jordan Roper would throw the haymaker. With 2:44 remaining in the half, Roper would sink corner three's in back to back possessions, and follow with a transition layup after a Stephen Croone turnover. Before you could blink, Clemson was finishing the half on a 19-4 run and taking a 19 point lead into the half, 38-19.
With the game comfortably in hand, I expected to see Clemson running its trademark "run out the clock" offense, but instead we saw the Tigers continue to attack the Paladins late into the second half. With Rod Hall on the bench, Adonis Filer and the Tigers ran the court and turned up the defensive intensity. The high pressure by the Tigers was forcing Furman 30 feet from the basket deep into the shot clock which lead to two shot clock violations by the Paladins in a four possession span. The Clemson high pressure was clearly starting to get to Furman as it seemed like Clemson was getting a hand on the ball during each possession and completely cutting off the passing lanes for the Paladins.
K.J. McDaniels added an exclamation point with 7:55 remaining in the game as Rod Hall threw up a perfect pass from half court and McDaniels climbed the ladder and slammed it home with one hand. Furman would quickly turn the ball back over and McDaniels went in uncontested for a windmill dunk that would bring down Littlejohn Coliseum and balloon the lead to 61-28.
Clemson held Furman to only 16 second half points, and 35 points for the game. The 35 point defensive outing is the fewest points an opponent has scored against Clemson since Brad Brownell took over the program in 2010. Clemson finished the game shooting 50.0% from the field and 26.1% from behind the arc and would out rebound Furman 37-23. Clemson would also lead the points in the paint 36-18.
Jordan Roper was the leading scorer for the Tigers tonight, dropping 16 points on 5-10 shooting and added 3 three-pointers. While K.J. McDaniels may not have matched the career high 27 points that he put up against Arkansas, he did fill up the stat sheet scoring 12 points on 4-8 shooting while collecting 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 4 blocked shots. Devin Coleman would round out the Tigers in double figures scoring 13 points of his own in only 13 minutes of play shooting 5-8 from the floor and 2-4 from beyond the arc. Sidy Djitte led the Clemson big men scoring 8 points on a perfect 4-4 shooting and pulling down 10 rebounds.
Clemson will travel to Auburn (4-3) on Thursday night to take on the Tigers at 8:00pm on ESPN3.