CLEMSON — With just over 10 minutes left Monday night, Brad Brownell rolled out a lineup which was, shall we say, inexperienced.
Freshman point guard Jordan Roper set up for freshman shooting guard Adonis Filer. Sophomore swingman Damarcus Harrison, sophomore forward Bernard Sullivan and freshman forward Landry Nnoko roamed the paint.
Combined previous games in a Clemson uniform? 28, all from Sullivan. Combined starts in a CU uniform? 0.
Clemson kicked off a new – and young – era as the 2012-13 season opened at Littlejohn Coliseum. 12 of the Tigers’ 14 players are either freshman or sophomores, the program’s youngest team since the NCAA allowed freshman eligibility in 1972-73.
However, experience still mattered. Seniors Devin Booker and Milton Jennings combined for 26 points, and Clemson rolled to an 77-44 win in both teams’ season opener. The Tigers will travel to Furman on Friday.
Jennings finished with 15 points, six rebounds and two assists; Booker added 11 points and five rebounds. Roper added 11 points. Nine players scored at least five points.
“I hope Milt and Booker are out there a lot, but there are times we’ll have to rest them, times with fouls,” Brownell said. “Other guys are going to have to play but those guys are the most experienced guys on our team, our best players. They’ll need to be on the court a lot. To get them 23 and 20 minutes tonight, it was good to get some other guys reps.”
Presbyterian – which played a six-man rotation – never provided much of a challenge; the Tigers scored the game’s first seven points and never looked back.
Clemson shot 54 percent from the field and held PC to 30.2 percent.
“Defense is going to be our thing this year,” Jennings said. “Coming into this season, 9 times out of 10, most people were like, ‘How are they going to score,’ but we’re doing a tremendous job of scoring and on top of that playing such great defense that we’re getting easy looks.”
Jennings’ jumper from the right baseline as the first half clock expired lifted Clemson to a 38-21 halftime lead.
Clemson led 9-2 at the first media timeout as Presbyterian made just one of its first nine shots.
Defense fueled the Tigers’ success; with just under eight minutes left, athletic sophomore forward K.J. McDaniels leaped to block a Presbyterian shot which led to a shot-clock violation, earning a standing ovation from his teammates and the crowd.
“Just grinding, that’s what I think it is,” McDaniels said. “Being able to get in there and contest the big man’s shot, it was a confidence-builder for me.”
Defense, McDaniels said, is a mindset.
“(Brownell) stresses it every day. In practice we’re constantly on defense,” McDaniels said. “That’s what we want to be known for, our offense, not our defense.”
Brownell said his team is “certainly further along” defensively, but “we’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to get better at. Our effort on defense helped us wipe away mistakes, but when we play better teams, that won’t be good enough. They’ll be able to execute under pressure.”
Presbyterian cut a 27-7 Clemson lead to 30-17 on Wren alum Austin Anderson’s 3-point play with 3:50 left, but the Tigers finished the half with a flourish, outscoring the Blue Hose 8-4.
Clemson hit four of 11 3-pointers, including a pair from Filer.
As the second half opened, the Tigers put their foot on PC’s collective throat and ground down – hard.
A Jennings layup and PC goaltend call extended the lead to 42-21, and Booker followed with a 15-foot jumper from the right baseline.
McDaniels threw in a dagger with a 3-pointer from the right wing, extending the lead to 47-21 with 17:2 to play.
“Tremendous,” Jennings said. “We’ve got a young team, so for a young team to start off good and finish good, that’s great. Great signs of a young team that has a little maturity to them.”
Clemson finished with 18 assists against six turnovers, while forcing 12 Blue Hose turnovers.
“We see each other. That’s the biggest thing,” Jennings said. “Nobody’s selfish on this team. Nobody looks to just take it and go one-on-one, unless there’s five seconds on the shot clock.”
Noted: Brownell said a decision on whether or not to redshirt freshman guard Jaron Blossomgame will come in the next two weeks. Blossomgame is recovering from a compound leg fracture suffered this spring.
“We’re trying to watch a little more and see exactly how close we think he is,” Brownell said. “We’ve got to come to some decision soon. We’ll sit with him and evaluate.
“He’s doing about what we thought he would do. No real major setbacks. At the same time, I don’t think he’s exactly surprised us with how well he’s moving either. It’s a difficult injury that takes a lot of time. We’re kind of in the process.”