When: Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 9 p.m.
Where: Colonial Life Arena - Columbia, S.C.
How to Watch: ESPNU and WatchESPN
Clemson has won six games in a row after notching a solid 67-54 win over Alabama on Sunday, and the Tigers hope to take down their third SEC foe of the season when they travel to Columbia on Wednesday to take on No. 22 South Carolina.
Shelton Mitchell was superb in leading Clemson with 18 points and appears to be rounding into the kind of lead guard Brad Brownell’s staff hoped he could be when they brought him in from Vanderbilt. His ability to penetrate and finish in the paint or kick to open shooters is something Clemson hasn’t seen since Demontez Stitt donned the orange and white. He pushes the tempo well and can steal easy baskets in transition, while also proving to be an unexpected threat from three-point range so far.
Avry Holmes, Gabe DeVoe, Marquise Reed and Donte Grantham have all been beneficiaries of Mitchell’s stellar play at times and have provided a nice lineup of credible scoring threats. Clemson not having to rely on any particular player out of that group means there isn’t a overwhelming amount of pressure for any certain one to perform on a given night.
While the win over Alabama was the first time this season Jaron Blossomgame failed to score in double figures, it was also the first game in which he had single-digit field goal attempts. So it wasn’t an inefficient game for the Tigers’ star forward as much as one in which he took what he was given and allowed his teammates - specifically Mitchell - to thrive. Nevertheless, he will likely need to play a bigger role on offense against a team as stout defensively as South Carolina.
The other big storyline from Sunday’s game was the debut of Texas A&M transfer Elijah Thomas. Thomas posted a respectable five points and three rebounds in 11 minutes of play and will likely work his way into more significant playing time. The addition is huge for this Clemson team because it allows Brownell to rest Sidy Djitte (and, to a lesser degree, Blossomgame) for adequate periods of time in a way he couldn’t when he only had Legend Robertin to fall back on.
South Carolina is off to a 9-1 start, with its only blemish coming without star guard Sindarius Thornwell in a three-point loss to Seton Hall. Thornwell has missed the last three games due to suspension and will not play against the Tigers.
Sophomore point guard P.J. Dozier has performed admirably in his stead and has scored 20 or more points in four straight games. At 6’6”, he is a bigtime mismatch, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Brownell let a guy like Donte Grantham take a crack at guarding him if he becomes too problematic for smaller guys like Holmes or Mitchell. Expect to see Gabe DeVoe matching up with him at times as well.
Expect the smaller players to be tasked with harassing Gamecocks’ shooting guard and three-point specialist Duane Notice and trying to keep him from getting in a shooting rhythm, as he can be deadly when comfortable. Notice is 50% (8 for 16) from three-point range against Clemson the past two seasons.
The Gamecocks rank in the top 5 nationally in both scoring defense and field goal percentage defense, and it’s at that end of the court where they really stand out with their physical and aggressive play. Clemson will certainly have to shoot the ball well if its wants to win, but the Tigers need to be committed to trying to break down the South Carolina defense with penetration and post feeds and not settling for quick and/or contested jumpers. They would also be well served to attack in transition when opportunities present themselves because the Gamecocks do not allow many easy buckets.
With Clemson’s struggles at keeping opponents off the offensive glass, the Gamecocks will likely attack the boards with their big post bodies. There aren’t any world beaters down low for South Carolina, but Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar are more than capable of taking advantage of lapses in rebounding or post defense from the Tigers. Silva is an especially good offensive rebounder.
Clemson has lost two straight games to South Carolina, including an embarrassing 68-45 loss in Columbia two years ago. Kenpom gives the Gamecocks a 61% chance to win, which may be a bit high considering Thornwell’s absence, but the matchup probably favors the Gamecocks at home. Ball movement and commitment to attacking on offense (along with some timely shooting), along with bottling up Dozier and Notice while keeping South Carolina off the offensive glass will be keys if the Tigers are going to pull off a win.