Clemson’s Brad Brownell and South Carolina’s Frank Martin are pretty sure of what to expect from each other going into Saturday’s 5 p.m. tip in Littlejohn.
“Frank gets them to play hard,” the Tigers’ fourth-year coach said. “He’s hard on them and demands a lot. They rebound the fire out of it. They defend for him. They seem to be playing good basketball.”
“Brad’s teams don’t make mistakes,” Martin said of the 2-0 Tigers. “They don’t turn it over. They make you play through their defense so you have to be disciplined.”
The two, however, aren’t quite sure what their young teams will have in store for this early edition of the Palmetto State basketball rivalry. The Gamecocks second-year coach says focus can play a major factor.
“We can be playing Clemson or we can be playing my high school team in 1986,” said Martin, “but if we’re not focused, we’re not going to play well. We will find out. That’s the thing with this team.
“We have a lot of guys that are dealing with a first as this season unfolds. We including me have to learn on the different things that the season throws at you.”
Underclassmen make up 12 of 15 roster spots for South Carolina (1-1) currently — five of their top-seven in minutes, and their leading scorer is freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell (17 points per game).
“Sindarius Thornwell is a guy we recruited extremely hard and he’s a really talented guy,” Brownell said of the 6-5 206 Lancaster product. “It’s not surprising to me he’s having big freshman year. He’s got a college-ready body.”
Clemson’s leading producers have been juniors K.J. McDaniels (15.5 PPG/6 rebounds per game) and Damarcus Harrison (12.5 PPG/.444 3-point percentage), but it’s still a roster with six underclassmen averaging double-digit minutes, including all of their big men.
“It will be a real physical battle. For a young team like us, that’s a question mark for us,” Brownell said. “Are our big guys inside going to be tough enough to rebound like they need to against big, strong other bodies? This will be the first game where we’re competing for 50-50 balls in the air and rebounds.”
Clemson cruised to 20 (Stetson) and 21-point wins (Delaware State) to start, holding the Atlantic Sun and MEAC opponents to 31 percent shooting.
South Carolina limited turnovers (8) in a heartbreaker this week at No. 23 Baylor, falling 66-64, with a foul call on a Gamecocks’ buzzer-beater attempt rescinded after replay.
“We did some things well, but we also are not anywhere near who we need to be to be able to win high-level games yet,” Martin said. “We’ve got to find a way to be a little more disciplined. Everybody says compete — competing is a whole lot deeper than who runs fast or who jumps after balls.
“Competing is doing your job and being disciplined to do your job regardless of what your opponent is doing. We don’t understand that yet.”
Brownell has stressed to his players this week just how much of a battle this game will be.
“There’ll be some preparation and be some coaching,” he said, “but at the end of the day, there’s going to be a point in the game where it’s just going to be about getting it done. The ball’s in the air and either you’re going to get it or they’re going to get it and put it back.”
The Tigers and Gamecocks are playing before the schools’ gridiron matchup for the first time ever. South Carolina hasn’t won a road nonconference game since a 58-55 win at Clemson in 2011, and they’ve scored only two road wins total the last two seasons. The Tigers’ highflying swingman McDaniels led the way with 16 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in a 64-55 win down in Columbia last year.