At the ripe young age of 20 years and seven days, Clemson's K.J. McDaniels plays basketball as you might expect a college sophomore to play - with high energy and high effort.
Yet sometimes the 6-6, 200-lb. forward has the look of an old soul, a man who carries the weight of his team -if not the weight of the world - on his shoulders.
Thursday night, moments after Clemson had ended its season-long Atlantic Coast Conference road woes with a 56-53 victory over Georgia Tech in Atlanta, the weight was gone.
At least for a while.
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“It was definitely a feeling of happiness,” McDaniels said. “We came together as a team and got a win on the road.”
No victory comes at a bad time but this one came at the best time with No. 3 Miami coming to Littlejohn Coliseum on Sunday.
McDaniels says going into that game with a winning feeling could make a big difference once the ball goes up at 6:02 p.m.
“Miami is a great team,” McDaniels said. “But to be able to go on the road and get a win was a confidence builder. Now we go into that game against Miami trusting each other and knowing the crowd is going to help us out.”
The Tigers’ previous road game ended with a 37-point loss to Virginia and before heading to Georgia the team was still reeling from a last-second home setback to North Carolina State.
For one night – or at least one trip – all that was forgotten.
“The bus ride was much better than some of the other trips we’d have to come back from,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “We’re coming off a really good win and I’m happy for the players.”
Milton Jennings came through with a win-sealing block and netted 12 points, while Devin Booker added 13 points.
The big seniors combined for 14 rebounds as well.
But McDaniels was the top scorer with 14 points, and has now recorded a block in 14 consecutive ACC matchups.
He is second in the league in swats with 27.
McDaniels is the second leading scorer on the team with 11.2 points per game and is also one of the team's top free throw shooters with a 50-of-71 mark from the foul line.
Expected to be one of the team leaders in 2013-14, McDaniels said the win over the Yellow Jackets was a growing experience of its own.
“We know we’re a young team, but we can’t do anything but learn more as we go,” McDaniels said.
Brownell hopes since his men finally learned to get a win on the road, they can hold serve at home in their biggest game of the season yet.
“There’s something special about winning a road game, fighting adversity and getting a win on somebody else’s court,” Brownell said. “Winning gives you a little boost and maybe you play with a little more confidence. Now we look forward to playing maybe the hottest team in the country.”