GREENVILLE — There will be nights this winter – not many, Brad Brownell hopes – when senior big men, team captains and pillars Devin Booker and Milton Jennings struggle.
Maybe they’re in foul trouble. Maybe they’re hurting a bit. Maybe they’ve got a bad matchup.
When that happens, Brownell needs the younger members of Clemson’s roster – i.e., everyone else – to step forward.
That happened inside Timmons Arena Friday night. With Booker and Jennings hampered by foul trouble, Brownell got standout efforts from members of the sophomore class that helped Clemson pull away for a 72-55 rout of Furman before 2,755 at Timmons Arena.
The Tigers improved to 2-0 heading into next week’s Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla; Furman fell to 1-2.
“Something our team’s got is a lot of depth, a lot of guys who can step up and make big plays,” said Booker, who finished with a game-high 15 points in 23 minutes. “(Jennings and I) got in foul trouble early, and we had a couple of freshmen and sophomore step up and make big plays. That’s what we’ve got on our team.”
Sophomore guard K.J. McDaniels scored 11 points, while BYU transfer Damarcus Harrison added 10. Eight Tigers scored at least six points. Clemson forced 16 Furman turnovers, outscoring the Paladins 29-8 off turnovers.
“That’s going to be the recipe for our team this year,” Brownell said. “I don’t know we have a bunch of potent guys that are ready to have big nights. It’s going to be a bunch of guys getting 10, 8, 12, when we’re playing well. We did get that tonight. That’s a good thing. It’s not easy to key on one guy, when you can have guys doing a little bit of everything.”
The Tigers bolted to a 41-24 halftime lead, but it wasn’t always pretty.
Clemson came out sluggish; following a Furman dunk that gave the Paladins an 8-7 lead five minutes in, Brownell called a timeout and pointedly told his team they weren’t ready to play.
“We had a lack of attention to detail in a few things defensively,” he said. “We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be, let the ball get to some places we talked about it not wanting to get there, I challenged our guys: this is not how we’re going to play and be successful.”
The teams were tied at 12 with 11:31 left, but the Tigers built a comfortable halftime margin with excellent defense and superior athleticism at both ends of the floor.
Booker’s putback gave the Tigers a 21-13 lead with 8:40 left, and Furman coach Jeff Jackson called a timeout to regroup.
It didn’t seem to matter.
McDaniels drove to the hoop, got fouled and made both free throws. Following an official timeout,
Jennings canned a 3-pointer from the right wing, forced a turnover at the other end and set up a break that ended with a Rod Hall pull-up jumper from 15 feet.
Jackson had seen enough, calling another timeout. Clemson led 28-13 thanks to a 16-1 run and maintained the lead despite both seniors missing the final six minutes with their second fouls.
Both also missed time in the second half after each picked up their third by the 13-minute mark.
“We had to lock in defensively,” McDaniels said. “We didn’t want it to be a back-and-forth game, we wanted it to be a dogfight throughout the game. Coach Brownell got on us to go out there, we had to lock in, focus and play hard.”
Clemson extended its lead to as many as 23 points in the second half, but Brownell wasn’t entirely pleased.
“The second half we played like a team with the lead,” he said. “We didn’t play with the same kind of desperation and energy we needed to. I thought Furman did a good job attacking us.”
McDaniels continued his strong start; seven of his 11 points came at the foul line, and he added the best dunk of the season, a one-hand tip follow jam.
This summer, he spent a week at John Lucas’ skills camp in Houston, working alongside NBA players like Adrian Branch, Mike James, JaVale McGee, Cartier Martin while getting up as many as 1,000 jump shots per day.
“Working and being able to play against them makes me more comfortable,” he said.
He isn’t a finished product, but Brownell says he has made progress.
“He’s more comfortable. I don’t know he’s a lot more comfortable,” Brownell said. “He’s still a guy who’s learning to play away from the basket without the ball, but he’s part of it. Physically he’s better this year, he’s stronger, he’ s more mature, he doesn’t wear out as easily, and I think that helps him play stretches of games longer. He has a ways to go in terms of skill stuff but you see flashes from him.”