CLEMSON — Brad Brownell says you can feel the energy of a gym as you walk down the pre-game tunnel to the court.
A week ago, Littlejohn Coliseum had a buzz in the air, with No.8 Arizona in town.
Saturday night, with Florida A&M in the building and a post-final exams crowd of maybe 4,000 on hand?
Not so much.
“You know how you have to approach it,” Brownell said. “It’s easy not to be locked in, especially with the (open) style that Florida A&M plays.”
It took 20 minutes, but Clemson found the right approach eventually. The Tigers followed a sometimes-sluggish first half with a white-hot run, defanging the Rattlers with a 27-6 run that led to an 80-57 win.
Clemson improved to 6-3, while FAMU fell to 4-7.
“I wasn’t in (the halftime locker room) going crazy,” Brownell said. “I was talking to them in a way that let them know that discipline is important. It’s real easy to lose it and lose focus. Just play the game. I felt like we were not playing the game the right way and I don’t like it when we don’t play the right way.”
Freshman guard Jordan Roper made the most of his first career start, scoring 16 points on four of five 3-pointers.
Fellow freshman Adonis Filer added 14 points, while senior forward Devin Booker had 12 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore K.J. McDaniels had 11 points and six rebounds. Senior forward Milton Jennings had seven points and 11 boards, while sophomore guard Rod Hall contributed six points and 10 assists.
Roper found out Thursday that he’d be starting. He added three steals with one assist and one turnover.
“It meant a lot to me playing with those guys,” he said. “I’m here to do anything to help our team win. I felt like I handled it pretty well. Made a few turnovers, costly turnovers, but felt like I played pretty well.”
McDaniels said Roper’s shooting can be a difference-maker.
“Roper is a gifted shooter,” he said. “ In practice I have to guard him sometimes, and I can’t lose sight of him. To have him come out and do that allows us to have an extra threat on the perimeter.”
Clemson shot 52.6 percent from the field – just the third time it has topped 50 percent this season – and held FAMU to 31.8 percent shooting. The Tigers also dominated the boards, outrebounding the Rattlers 49-32.
Still, Brownell wasn’t pleased with his team’s 41-31 halftime lead. Filer said giving up 31 points to FAMU was too much.
“He was angry,” Filer said. “We don’t like keeping coach mad at us the whole game. It makes for harder practices.”
Roper said Brownell implored his team to build good habits, knowing it would carry over to ACC play.
“It’s when giving up a basket doesn’t bother us, because we know we’re going to get one on other ends. Not pass-faking it, taking care of the ball in the game gets loose. This is one of those games where you can have either really good habits or build bad ones. We started the game fine, but there are nights when you’re not going to make a lot of shots. If you don’t make shots, what else do you do well?”
The Tigers scored the first four points of the second half, and FAMU coach Clemon Johnson called a timeout to calm his team with 18:07 left. His message didn’t sink in; a pair of Roper 3-pointers sparked an even bigger run, and Clemson led 57-35 with 14:54 to play.
A Roper steal and fast-break dunk pushed the lead over 30, at 63-31.
“At that point, I kind of got disgusted with the players on the floor,” Johnson said. “We settled them down, said, ‘Hey, gentlemen, let’s not let them blow us out.”
As has been the case many nights this season, defense made the difference for Clemson.
“Defense changed the tempo of the game,” Hall said. “Once we got our defense going, we got the rebounds and got it out. We played faster.”