CLEMSON – The marquee suggested that Clemson vs. South Carolina was the main attraction on Sunday at Littlejohn Coliseum, but K.J. McDaniels was the real star of the show.
The 6-6 junior forward did it all and did it well for the home team, leading Clemson to a 71-57 victory over the Gamecocks.
“K.J. was the best player on the floor,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “He just made plays - attacked the basket. He did some great things.”
McDaniels recorded his first double-double and had a career high in points, scoring 21 points and snatching 10 rebounds in a tour de force performance in front of 7,280 fans.
He also had seven blocks in 36 minutes on the court.
Clemson improves to 3-0 on the year while USC slips to 1-2.
“I feel like I have a different mind set,” said McDaniels, who scored 20 points in a season-opening win over Stetson. “I feel like I have to be aggressive and I was more aggressive tonight.”
The Tigers led 35-26 at the half but USC came out strong after the break, at one point cutting the deficit to one.
Clemson opened the second half 1 of 9 shooting to help the Gamecocks get back in it, but then McDaniels once again took control.
He scored 7 of his team’s next 10 points, creating a bit of breathing room that the winners were able to maintain the rest of the way.
“I just told the guys we only play them once a year and we had to get the crowd into it,” McDaniels said. “Our energy was really good and I feel like our defense was making things really hard on them. We had a lot of guys that did a really good job.”
South Carolina coach Frank Martin agreed.
He said Clemson played the type of game that would’ve made it close to impossible for his team to win.
“I’m not going to tell you I predicted this but unless we shot a high percentage we weren’t going to be able to beat a team that plays as disciplined as Clemson,” Martin said. “No doubt the physicality of the game made a difference. Our perimeter defense stinks right now.”
Mindaugas Kacinas did what he could to help the USC cause, scoring 13 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
“I’m trying to do what coach said,” Kacinas said. “I’m just upset guys didn’t play as hard as they could. I hope they learn from their mistakes.
The Tigers shot 43 percent or the game to USC’s 35 percent, but they won the battle of the boards, 41-23.
However, Clemson had 26 defensive rebounds.
“You know it’s going to be a physical game so you just do the best you can,” Brownell said. “We really competed tonight. South Carolina is big and strong a terrific rebounding team but we did some good things in our zone offense.
Jordan Roper added 15 points and Rod hall scored 14.
Sindarius Thornwell chipped in 10 points for USC.
The first half had a bull in a China shop feel early on and it was difficult for either team to get into much of a flow
But Clemson settled down first and soon settled in to a relatively comfortable lead.
McDaniels had a couple of dunks off misses that helped get the crowd into the game and the Gamecocks went through long stretches without coming close to a score.
It wasn’t due to lack of effort; USC put up 36 shots to just 24 for the hosts. But only 12 of its field goals were on target.
The Clemson lead grew as large as 13 – and the Tigers helped themselves by going 12 of 14 from the line – and after 20 minutes the home team was showing the way at 35-26.
Hall was the only double digit scorer in the opening half, getting 7 of his 11 points on free throws.
For the game the victors were 24 of 26 from the charity stripe.