Motivated, skilled SMU stands between Tigers and Big Apple Thursday

Brad Brownell: 'It says about as much as anything that the frustration or disappointment hasn't affected them'

SMU head coach Larry Brown, left, Clemson head coach Brad Brownell, head of NIT selection C.M. Newton, Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino, and Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton pose for a NIT coaches press conference photograph at the Marriott Marquis in New York City on Monday.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

SMU head coach Larry Brown, left, Clemson head coach Brad Brownell, head of NIT selection C.M. Newton, Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino, and Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton pose for a NIT coaches press conference photograph at the Marriott Marquis in New York City on Monday.

One way or another, Clemson’s 2013-14 basketball season will end at Madison Square Garden.

To make sure it ends Thursday instead of late tonight, though, the Tigers will have to get past a Southern Methodist University team that came to New York hoping to make a statement.

Clemson fans at NBC Today Show before NIT

Clemson (23-12) meets SMU (26-9) today at 7 p.m. in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament. Florida State and Minnesota play in the other semifinal at approximately 9:30 p.m. with the winners advancing to Thursday’s NIT championship game.

The Mustangs, coached by Hall of Famer Larry Brown, held a Top 25 ranking in March but failed to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Their 26 wins are the second-most in program history and include a regular season sweep of NCAA Final Four participant UConn.

“You’ve got the NCAA Final Four playing for a national championship, and the NIT is like a national championship, especially when I was growing up,” Brown said. “I’m happy for our team, One way or another, Clemson’s 2013-14 basketball season will end at Madison Square Garden.

A single season record 107,412 fans attended their home games and the American Athletic Conference team is hoping an NIT title will show the NCAA Selection Committee erred in not including the Ponies in the field of 68.

“They’re a talented group that very easily could have been in the NCAA tournament,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “It says about as much as anything that the frustration or disappointment hasn't affected them. They've gone right in the NIT and played pretty well and beat some good opponents and played at a high level.

“That speaks to the quality of coaching and character of their players.”

Clemson’s projected starting lineup will consist of junior guard Rod Hall (9.4 points per game, 3.9 assists per game); sophomore guard Jordan Roper (7.4 PPG, 1.7 rebounds per game ); junior guard Damarcus Harrison (7.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG); junior forward K.J. McDaniels (17.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG); and sophomore center Landry Nnoko (6.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG).

McDaniels, who’ll have a decision to make about the NBA Draft when the season ends this week, realizes the Mustangs will provide the Tigers one of their biggest challenges.

“They are so smooth and so fast … fast-moving,” McDaniels said. “I can definitely see the difference in their team. We're one of the top defensive teams. We'll play as hard as we can and Larry Brown is a defensive-minded coach as well. I'm looking forward to the game.”

McDaniels is the sixth player in Clemson history to score at least 600 points in a season and is 49 points shy of breaking the single-season school record of 651 shared by Bill Yarborough (1954-55) and Horace Grant (1986-87).

SMU will counter with sophomore guard Nic Moore (13.5 PPG, 4.9 APG); freshman guard Sterling Brown (4.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG); senior guard Nick Russell (9.8 PPG, 3.3 APG); senior forward Shawn Williams (4.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG); and forward Markus Kennedy (12.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG).

Russell says the key to defeating Clemson is to stick to the script his team has followed since November.

“We just have to play our game,” he said. “We have to get stops, control the tempo, take good shots, get rebounds and defend. The same things we have been doing all season. I sound like a broken record but we just have to do the same things we have been doing. Play hard, play harder than them and take care of the ball.

“I feel like we have been struggling with turnovers the past couple of games and we have gotten out to slow starts. So if we can come out and start fast and get into them early then we should have a good chance to win”

Damarcus Harrison in NYC for NIT

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The Mustangs, which allow just 62.3 points per game, rank No. 7 in Division I in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 38.2 percent.

Offensively they were tops in the AAC in field goal percentage (48.4).

“They are a very good passing team,” Brownell said. “A very skilled team as you would expect with coach Brown's teams. They share the ball. They pass it. Nic Moore and Nick Russell – their two primary ball handlers – are very good with the ball. Good decision-makers. And Marcus Kennedy, one of their post players, is a great passer. A very skilled big man that handles double-teams well and pick-and-roll. He catches it and you're rotating and he finds guys on the weakside and the ball just moves.

“That's one of the reasons they are so good offensively. They pass it well.”

The Tiger defense will try to keep scoring at a premium; they have allowed 50 or less points nine times this season and are 9-0 in those contests.

Today’s meeting is the first between the schools since the Tigers defeated the Mustangs 67-51 in the Music City Classic during the 1970-71 season.

Follow Scott Adamson on Twitter @adamsonslAIM.”

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