CLEMSON — Sometimes success is measured in who teams don’t lose to — rather than who they beat, as was the case in Littlejohn Coliseum Saturday night.
Tiger basketball won’t receive a spike in its RPI for it, but they doubled-up Furman plus-one, 71-35, to improve to 8-2.
Moving to 6-0 at home on the season, the 35 points allowed were the least in the Brad Brownell era, and for the school, the least since 1996 (28 versus Wofford). They’ve averaged a 22.6-point margin of victory in Littlejohn.
Clemson 71, Furman 35
An imposing Clemson frontline gave the Paladins trouble early.
In for freshman Jaron Blossomgame in his first career start was Ibrahim Djambo, combining with sophomore center Landry Nnoko for two 6’10 or taller players to Furman’s nil, and the Clemson big men took advantage with the first 11 points.
The Paladins poked enough holes in the nation’s top scoring defense to keep it interesting early.
At the first break, Furman was shooting 75 percent and they held a 50 percent rate over the first 10 minutes, trailing by four as late as four to go. Then, the lid proceeded to go on the basket, and sophomore Tigers guard Jordan Roper got into a groove.
With forward Josh Smith out (back), Brownell went to hockey-style substitutions early (five at a time), and Roper made the first-line — scoring 13 points in his 12 first-half minutes and adding another trey later for a game-high 16 points.
The Columbia native has been working his way back from a concussion that limited his time in the last four contests.
“I’ve been trying to put up a lot of shots to get into the flow of the game since the concussion,” Roper said. “Those shots helped us. When anybody makes shots it builds the momentum and it really helps us on defense.”
Going scoreless for 6:50, the Paladins (4-6) missed eight of their final nine shots in the half, while Clemson mounted a 17-2 run.
“We really wanted to emphasize deflections so we pressured more than our previous games,” said Roper, “and that led to our transition and made it tough for them to score.”
The Tigers posted 18 points off 16 Furman turnovers, routing them 10-0 in fast break points.
The second session was part-exhibition and part-dunk contest, as K.J. McDaniels put on a show in back-to-back possessions with a one-hand alley-oop slam and breakaway windmill-throwdown for a 61-28 advantage with seven and a half to go.
“Really pleased with how our guys defended for the full 40 minutes,” the Tigers’ head coach said. “Showed very good defensive discipline and to stay focused and guard for that long...We played well and executed against their zone.”
Furman leading scorers Stephen Croone and Larry Wideman ran into the brick wall of the Clemson ‘D.’
The 1-2 combo was accounting for almost half of the Paladins’ points a game, with Croone one of the nation’s leaders (20.4), but the two only managed to shoot 4-of-19 from the field for nine points on the night.
“We did a really good job on their two best players,” Brownell said. “Wideman didn’t score, which is good for us and we wanted to limit his shots. He’s a dangerous player with an attack mentality and we got him to turn the ball over several times. Our guys stuck with the gameplan even though they hit some shots in the beginning of the game.”
The Tigers shot 79 percent or better from the free throw line (11-of-14) for the fifth time in 10 games, improving upon an already seventh-best percentage nationally.
Clemson held an opponent under 50 points for the fourth time this season and the 26th-time under Brownell.
The Tigers return to action next Thursday at Auburn (8 p.m., FSN).