CLEMSON — When Brad Brownell looks at Purdue, he sees some very familiar signs.
A stingy, defense-first team. A team with good shooters. A young team, still working to find its way in the season’s early weeks.
A team much like his own.
“Purdue is a mirror image of us,” Brownell, Clemson’s third-year head coach, said Tuesday.
The doppelgangers – er, Boilermakers – come to Littlejohn Coliseum Wednesday for Clemson’s portion of the annual ACC/Big 10 Challenge. Clemson (4-1) hosts Purdue (2-3) in a 7:15 p.m. game televised by ESPNU, and the similarities should be abundant.
“I think we’re more of the same than anybody I’d coach against,” Brownell said. “I remember someone asking me that question in my first year – who do I think the high-major team I’d most resemble, and I said Purdue. I hope to have some of the success they’ve had the last several years. (Coach) Matt (Painter) has done an incredible job. We believe in the same types of things.”
Clemson missed last year’s NCAA Tournament, breaking a four-year streak. The Tigers have 12 freshmen or sophomores (10 active, two redshirting) on their 14-man roster.
Purdue has a six-year NCAA streak, with a pair of Sweet 16 appearances. The Boilermakers are younger than usual; they have nine freshmen or sophomores on their 14-man roster. They lost the season opener to Bucknell, also dropping games against Villanova and Oregon State.
Brownell says both teams are “starting to figure it out a little bit”, adding that both teams normally run motion, but are running more set plays and ball screens due to their overall youth.
“Matt does a great job with pressure defense – he’ll pick it up full-court and jam the ball, make it hard for you to score,” Brownell said. “Some motion offense and ball screens and sets like us, and primarily man-to-man defense. Really Midwestern-style basketball, if you will.”
Clemson is coming off a 2-1, fifth-place finish at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla. The Tigers played No.12 Gonzaga, the nation’s top-scoring team at 94 ppg, to a 57-49 opening-game loss before beating UTEP and Marist.
“I believe we still have a lot more to learn, but for us to be in the same gym with that type of team was a confidence-builder,” said sophomore swingman K.J. McDaniels, who averages 10.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
Clemson has held each of its first five opponents under 60 points, the program’s longest such streak since 1997-98, Rick Barnes’ final season at Clemson.
“I don’t know that (the Orlando trip) was anything different than what I expected,” Brownell said. “I was pleased with our ability to defend in three straight games. The game against Gonzaga, a very talented team, we played at a very high level and competed exceptionally hard. That was good. I knew offensively, at times, we were going to struggle and that happened.”
Clemson has been defined by its balance thus far. Senior forward Milton Jennings leads the Tigers with 10.8 points per game, while McDaniels and senior forward Devin Booker are right behind at 10.4. Freshman guard Adonis Filer averages 8.6 points per game; he averaged 10 points per game in Orlando and could be pressing for more playing time.
“I’m trying to get my confidence higher and higher as a freshman,” Filer said. “The main thing to do is stay consistent – that’s all I want to do. Stay consistent and help my team win. I’m playing a little more than I expected, and that’s coach Brownell’s decision. I’ll keep working hard to maintain my minutes or improve them.”
Brownell says Filer’s confidence is a plus.
“He doesn’t shake easily, doesn’t have a lot of self-doubt,” he said. “You get to this level, you make mistakes, you get corrected by your coach, you get taken out, you don’t make the plays you’re used to making, doubt creeps in. I don’t think (Filer) has a lot of self-doubt. He believes he’s going to make more plays, stays in that aggressive mode on a consistent basis. Most good players have those traits.”
To have consistent success, Clemson needs consistent outside scoring. The Tigers are shooting 40.8 percent from 3-point range, but they’ve been up and down. They made only two 3’s against Gonzaga, then nailed 12 of 16 against UTEP.
“We kick it into our (post players), the defense collapses on them,” Filer said. “They kick it out to us, and that’s shots for us. We’ve got to knock them down.”