CLEMSON — The Clemson-South Carolina men’s basketball rivalry is sometimes tough to read.
In recent years, it has fallen on a Sunday afternoon, a week after the schools play their highly-anticipated football rivalry game, and the day after football league title games.
There are states where those factors don’t matter. South Carolina isn’t one of them.
Roper ready for USC rivalry
So when Clemson (4-2) visits South Carolina (5-2) at noon Sunday in a game televised nationally by ESPNU, it’ll fly below the radar for most fans inside and outside of the state’s borders.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell has plenty of reason to be excited, however. He has yet to beat the Gamecocks in two tries, losing in Columbia two years ago and watching a seven-point halftime lead evaporate in a 20-point second half and 58-55 defeat in Clemson last December.
“It’s important to the fans,” Brownell said. “It’s important not so much for recruiting, although you keep your eye on that – more than anything with that, the success of the program is important. But the longer I’m here, I develop more of a dislike for my rival. You can’t help but be that way. (South Carolina coach) Frank (Martin) and I haven’t gotten into any barbs like football coaches ( Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier), but the longer we’re here, you never know – that might happen.”
Martin – in his first season as the Gamecocks’ head coach – appreciates the rivalry, too.
"Before I was hired I was told about (the importance of the rivalry),” Martin said. “I needed to make sure I understood that before I accepted the job. It’s clear as day that part of the job description at the University of South Carolina is that you beat Clemson. Fans let me know that. People I work for have made me understand how important that is. This is just me, and we’re all cut different ways. I’m not into, ‘Oh, this is a big game.’ I think they’re all big games."
Brownell says he’d welcome changing the game’s date, which he feels would enhance the rivalry. A year ago, Clemson announced a crowd of 7,238 for the game in 10,000-seat Littlejohn Coliseum.
“I don’t know if this is the best date or not,” he said. “We have two very good football programs in this state who have made championship games and there’s been a lot of attention on those games and less on our games, and we’re both at schools always fighting for more basketball attention. I haven’t had that conversation with Frank, but this has been the date we always play South Carolina. I don’t know if it’s the date we’ll always play South Carolina. We’ll see if it’s the best.”
Both teams enter today coming off defeats. Clemson couldn’t overcome a 20-point halftime deficit and fell 73-61 to Purdue; South Carolina dropped an 89-65 decision Thursday at St. John’s.
The Gamecocks may be without No.2 scorer Brenton Williams (13 ppg), who’ll be a game-time decision following a scary fall Thursday that saw him leave the court on a gurney. Clemson will be without senior forward Milton Jennings (10.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg), who is suspended following Wednesday’s arrest for marijuana possession; he’ll return next Saturday against Arizona.
Without Jennings, sophomore forward Bernard Sullivan (2 ppg, 1.7 rpg) will likely receive his second consecutive start. Brownell says having four days, as opposed to “an hour” for game-planning will help.
“We really couldn’t do much (against Purdue),” he said. “It makes it hard a little bit, the frontcourt, so inexperienced with two freshmen (in Landry Nnoko and Josh Smith) who are more centers than 4-men. We moved (senior Devin Booker) back to the 4. Some of the skills that Milt has, not a lot of guys on our team have them. Bernard has some, but not at the level Milt has, yet. It becomes a problem.”
The Gamecocks are led by senior guard LaShay Page, averaging 13 points per game, and freshman forward Michael Carrera, who averages 12 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
Brownell expects a hard-fought game with excellent, intense defense from South Carolina.
“Teams take on the personality of their coach,” he said. “Frank did some great things as Kansas State and he’s doing good things already there. He’s got them playing hard.”
For Clemson, the key will be playing better defense while also making a few more 3-pointers. In their two defeats, the Tigers have made just 10 of 45 3-pointers.
“It’s just on the defensive end,” Booker said of the key to success. “Our offense will come along eventually. If we can get multiple stops, that can be the key to our game, being a defensive team. If we showcase that we should be OK.”