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Basketball Preview: UNC Wilmington

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With extended winning streaks on the line for both teams, Clemson concludes non-conference play against the high scoring Seahawks of UNC Wilmington

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

When: 7:00pm ET

Where: Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, South Carolina

How to Watch: ACC Network Extra & the WatchESPN app.

The Clemson Tigers (9-2) return to Littlejohn Coliseum and will conclude non-conference play on Wednesday night as they battle the UNC Wilmington Seahawks (11-1) out of the Colonial Athletic Association. The two teams will be meeting for only the second time in program history (a Clemson victory in 1997), but the programs have more than a little in common, mainly on the benches. Clemson head coach Brad Brownell spend 12 seasons with the Seahawks, 8 as an assistant coach and began his head coaching career at UNC Wilmington spending 4 years at the helm from 2002 to 2006. Assistants Mike Winiecki and Lucas McKay were on Brownell’s staff at the time and share his ties to the Seahawks.

The Tigers return to Littlejohn Coliseum after picking up their first win on the road against a ranked opponent in program history (a 62-60 win at rival South Carolina) and are currently unbeaten (6-0) at the newly renovated Littlejohn. The winners of 7 in a row overall, Clemson is beginning to sneak into the national spotlight, picking up 12 votes in this week’s AP rankings.

True to Brad Brownell’s style of play, the Tigers are winning with their defense, giving up only 63.3ppg, good for 33rd overall in the country. The unsung hero of the Tiger defense up to this point in the season is Gabe DeVoe who is averaging 3.9rpg and leads the team averaging 3.2 assist per game.

Jaron Blossomgame leads the Tigers offensively averaging 17.4ppg despite his struggles behind the three-point line. After shooting 44.6% from behind the arc last season, Blossomgame has struggled this season, shooting only 17.1%. Some speculate that the problem may be mental, but Blossomgame appears to have altered his release point from last season to get the ball higher.

The Tigers have been waiting all season for the debut of Freshman transfer Elijah Thomas, and so far, the young man has not disappointed. Due to the foul trouble of Sidy Djitte, Thomas played extended minutes (26) against the Gamecocks and netted 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting while grabbing 7 rebounds. Sidy Djitte’s numbers may take a hit with the presence of Thomas, but the team production as a whole will greatly improve due to the Freshman’s athletic ability.

Clemson will have to avoid overlooking the Seahawks as ACC Conference play is looming, but make no mistake, the Seahawks are an NCAA Tournament caliber team. Winners of 8 in a row, the Seahawks managed to grab 3 votes in this week’s AP rankings of their own as they are off to an 11-1 start. They are ranked 51st and are given a 24% chance to beat the Tigers by KenPom. Of Clemson’s opponents, Only Xavier and South Carolina are currently ranked higher.

If there is one thing that the Seahawks can do, it is score. UNC Wilmington is averaging 88.9ppg this season, which is good for 9th in the country and has surpassed the 100 points mark 4 times already this season. The Seahawks are led in scoring by Sophomore Guard C.J. Bryce who is averaging 18.1ppg, but by no means are the Seahawks a one man show. UNC Wilmington has 3 other players averaging double figures in Chris Flemmings, Devontae Cacok and Denzel Ingram. (17.6ppg, 13.2ppg and 12.9ppg respectively) The Seahawk offense is extremely efficient, shooting 50.3% from the field as a team, good for 13th in the nation. The Seahawks can also do their fair share of damage from behind the arc as they have 3 players (Flemmings, Ingram and Ambrose Mosley) who have made over 20 3-points baskets on the season.

The key to the game for the Tigers will be perimeter defense. In UNC Wilmington’s two worst offensive performances this season (East Tennessee State and their only loss to Middle Tennessee State) The Seahawks managed to make only 14 3-pointers in the two games combined, and shot less than 30% while scoring more than 20 points below their season average. With Avry Holmes likely tasked with defending C.J. Bryce, it will be up to Shelton Mitchell and Gave DeVoe to keep a hand in the face of Denzel Ingram, who leads the team with 31 made 3-pointers on the season.

On the offensive side of the ball, Clemson will have to control the pace. The Seahawks best chance to upset the Tigers is to get into a shooting contest and minimize second chance points. Look for Clemson to run sets and go through Blossomgame in the post early and often. It may be tempting as UNC Wilmington gives up 74.5ppg (240th in the country) but the Tigers have to control themselves and play with poise.