The positives weren’t exactly evident in a 68-40 loss at then No. 1 Duke last week, but Devin Booker was one of them.
While the rest shot 10-for-40 (25 percent), Booker led the way with 12 points and was a beast on the boards, grabbing 15 rebounds.
And perhaps most importantly, Booker left an impression on the Tigers’ only other senior, Milton Jennings, which could prove to be a turning point this season.
“I finally wanted to match his intensity,” Jennings said after the Tigers got on track in ACC play with a 59-44 win over Virginia. “I told him I was going to hit the boards as much as he was – that when I got open shots I was going to take them.”
Take them he did, with some a couple breaks (two banked-in 3-pointers), but knocking down 7-of-13 shots for a season-high 21 points and adding 11 rebounds for a double-double.
Jennings credited Clemson’s young guards for being more patient, looking for the extra pass instead of hoisting up a quick shot.
“The Duke game – how do you shoot 10 percent?,” Jennings asked, pointing to the Tigers’ first-half struggles in Durham. “It’s easy to shoot 10 percent when you’re crossing over and just shooting at the top of the 3-point line with people on you, going one-on-one a bunch and getting a bunch of charges.
“(Saturday), they stopped and looked behind and made the extra skip pass, and look at the outcome.”
Brad Brownell said his senior duo was the key in any attempt to right the ship in ACC play, and they stepped up.
“I talked to both after the Duke game and just told them to hang in there,” said Brownell. “I know they were disappointed, but all of our players were going to look at them a lot…Both guys responded well.”
Getting the ball down-low and to Jennings and Booker was the gameplan, the two making up 23 of the Tigers’ 33 shots, but earning more trips to the line was a more-pleasant-than-usual byproduct.
Clemson had a remarkable 81.8 percent free throw rate (free throws to field goal attempts) and made 70.4 percent of them (19-of-27) – above their season (65) and what had been a 62 percent average at home.
Clemson/Virginia Key Stats
An unsung hero, sophomore guard Rod Hall made his mark, hitting 4-of-4 from the field (8 points), after Brownell said Friday Hall needed to shoot more, and also had no turnovers in a team-high 36 minutes against the defensive-minded Cavaliers.
Second in scoring coming in, K.J. McDaniels didn’t officially attempt a shot – fouled attacking the basket each time – making 6-of-8 free throws.
* Brownell motioned to the crowd during some of the tense moments of the second half Saturday.
“We are not a very dynamic offensive team, so the defensive end is where they can help us the most,” he said. “When they are screaming and yelling, making it hard to score and putting some doubt in our opponents and giving our guys some juice – that is when the fans are going to help us the most.”
Brownell said it’s not something he does often, but he appreciates the Tiger faithful sticking with his young team.
“I’m not on our fans at all, because they have been supportive,” said Brownell. “We haven’t played well at times to deserve as much support as we have gotten.
“…I was just encouraging them to stand up and support their guys.”