K.J. McDaniels is ready to compete at MSG

Clemson's K.J. McDaniels, left, is the last player to enter Madison Square Garden for a Monday morning practice.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson's K.J. McDaniels, left, is the last player to enter Madison Square Garden for a Monday morning practice.

Among New York City’s skyscrapers, Clemson’s ‘Flight 32’ – junior wing K.J. McDaniels – will take off tonight from the Madison Square Garden floor after a tremendous season.

Despite nagging shoulder pain, he’s averaged 19 points, 8 rebounds, 3.7 blocks and 2.3 assists in NIT action up to tonight’s 7 p.m. semifinal against Southern Methodist.

The Birmingham, Ala. native’s athletic ability shown in dunks and blocks get him on “SportsCenter,” but that’s just part of the story, says his coach Brad Brownell.

KJ McDaniels talks about playing SMU

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“I don’t think K.J. gets enough credit for the tough plays that he makes,” he said. “Some of those rebounds he goes and gets and second-effort plays – he makes some of them look easy because he’s so athletic.

“There’s a toughness about that that he’s not a big burly guy that he doesn’t get enough credit for toughness. Everybody wants to talk about his athleticism. He’s improved his toughness a great deal over the last two years and that’s allowed him to finish plays in traffic and get rebounds.

“I thought he was exceptional in terms of energy and toughness late in the game against Belmont.”

The NYC trip was a first for McDaniels and the rest of the Tigers – completing a whirlwind cycle started with a August basketball tour in Italy and also games in new ACC venues Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.

“It’s great that we got to travel to some great places,” McDaniels said. “It gave us a chance to see different things going on in our world. To go to Italy, that helped us out a lot. It brought us closer together as teammates and we trust each other a lot more than we did earlier. That helped out a lot.”

This week, Clemson has toured Times Square, the Empire State Building and taken in a Brooklyn Nets game at the Barclays Center (2017, 2018 ACC Tournament site), but for the Tiger weighing his NBA options, his favorite sightseeing stop will be tonight.

“Madison Square Garden is really what I came here to see,” McDaniels said. “I’m satisfied with seeing that if I don’t see anything else.”

Clemson/SMU Notes

Stats SMU excels in (top-50 nationally): FG% - 18th (48.4), 3FG% - 44th (38.2), Def. points per possession – 14th (0.922), floor% - 30th (43.5), assists – 33rd (15.2), FG% def. – 5th (3.2), 2FG% def. – 9th (42.2), opp. turnover rate – 23rd (20).

Stats Clemson excels in: Free throws – 32nd (74.2), def. points per possession – 19th (0.934), turnovers per game – 50th (10.7), FG% def. – 12th (39.3), 3FG% def. – 1st (28.4), blocks per game – 9th (6.1), fouls per game – 5th (15.6).

Stats SMU struggles in (280 or worse nationally): Turnovers – 280th (13.2), turnover rate - 304th (19.6).

Stats Clemson struggles in: 3FG% - 320th (30.7), assists – 314th (10.6), turnovers forced – 319th (10.1).

• SMU averages 26.5 points off of their bench. Clemson is 16-5 with the bench scoring advantage.

• 11 of Clemson’s last 13 games have been decided by two possessions or less – the Tigers going 6-5 (winning 2 of the last 3). Half of Clemson’s losses (6) have come by five points or less – just four by more than seven points.

Brownell talks about being in NYC

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• The Mustangs set a school record with 158 blocks this season (72nd nationally blocking 45 per game).

• SMU has won seven games where they have trailed by eight or more points this season. The Tigers have overcome six halftime deficits this season.

• Clemson is 11-1 when reaching the 70-point mark.

• SMU has outrebounded 24 of their 35 opponents this season. When the Tigers win the rebound margin, they are 17-4 this season.

• Mustangs 6’9 sophomore forward Markus Kennedy has six double-doubles this season, coming off 19 points and 10 rebounds against Cal to clinch the trip to NYC.

• SMU has reached the 80-point mark six times this season, winning all six. Clemson has given up that just twice – losing both (at UNC and Pitt) – and kept 21 teams to 60 or under, going 19-2 (losses to Syracuse and fellow NIT semifinalist FSU).

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