CLEMSON — Regardless of the temperature outside Littlejohn Coliseum, lows inside the gym often hover around 44 — at least for opponents of the Clemson Tigers.
For two consecutive games Brad Brownell’s team has held Atlantic Coast Conference foes to 44 points — the first time in school history the team has limited ACC rivals to 45 points or less in consecutive outings.
In 16 games the Tigers have held teams to exactly 44 points four times (including a 77-44 win over Presbyterian in the 2012-13 season opener). They’ve kept a total of six under 50 on the way to their 10-6 overall mark and 2-2 record in the league.
For the players, it’s simply the way they’re taught.
“Coach Brownell is a defense first coach,” said senior forward Milton Jennings, who averages 5.7 rebounds per game. “Man-to-man defense is the key and playing defense first is what we rely on to win games. It’s like a puppeteer — everybody works together. And I think when we do, we have the best defense in the country.”
Currently Clemson gives up 55.4 points per game, which puts the team ahead of the curve when it comes to scoring average this season. According to a report from Associated Press NCAA teams are averaging 68 points per game entering this weekend’s schedule. If that trend continues scoring will be the lowest in major college basketball since the 67.6 average that came in 1982 — before the shot clock and 3-point arc were universal.
“I think there are more teams that struggle to score than people think,” Brownell said. “I think some of it is you have a lot of younger players playing now, not having as many third and fourth year guys. There are not as many guys that are great shooters.
“I also think defenses are more sophisticated. It becomes more difficult to run basic things and get easy shots.”
Not all of the players have adapted so easily.
Freshman guard Jordan Roper played a more wide-open style while in high school at Irmo, scoring 1,698 points on the way to earning all-state honors twice.
“It’s definitely a challenge to get into all the grind games we play,” Roper said. “It’s not as exciting for the fans, but it’s exciting to get in those games and come away with a win.
“You just have to buy into the system and trust your teammates. It’s been a huge adjustment for me to learn to play help defense.”
While there have been several outstanding defensive performances by the team this season, none was better than Saturday’s 60-44 victory over Wake, a contest that saw the Tigers limit the Demon Deacons to 24.6 percent shooting — the second best field goal percentage defense by Clemson in 49 years.
Sophomore forward K.J. McDaniels had seven blocked shots in the win.
“I like playing games like these, especially because we’re a young team and these kinds of games keep you in the game,” McDaniels said. “Since coach Brownell is a defensive coach we come in with the mindset that that’s how we’re going to play. And really, it’s just a lockdown defense.”
As well as the team has played in its last two games it’ll have to elevate its defensive pressure even more on Sunday when it travels to Raleigh to take on North Carolina State.
The normally high-scoring Wolfpack is coming off an upset loss at Maryland, one in which the team scored just 16 points in the first half.
That number caught the attention of Jennings.
“I didn’t see all the game but I saw that,” he said. “We know we have to keep the game in the 50s or 60s to win, but we think with our defensive pressure we have a chance to do that. I think our length and defense can keep us in the game.
“It’s already helped us win some games.”