Youthful enthusiasm pays off for Clemson

Duke's Andre Dawkins, center, attempts a shot between Clemson's Jaron Blossomgame (5) and Landry Nnoko, right, during their NCAA college basketball game at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C. on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014.

Photo by Mark Crammer

Duke's Andre Dawkins, center, attempts a shot between Clemson's Jaron Blossomgame (5) and Landry Nnoko, right, during their NCAA college basketball game at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C. on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014.

CLEMSON — Kids today. What are you going to do with ‘em?

If you’re Clemson coach Brad Brownell, you’re going to laugh a little and yell a lot — and hope a really scrappy, fun bunch of Clemson young ‘uns can channel what they did on Saturday more often than what they conjured on Thursday.

Everyone knows about the Tigers’ youthful makeup, which is why expectations were so low entering the 2013-14 season.

Coach K impressed with Littlejohn

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And despite a nice preseason resume that saw them win their first five games and take the silver medal in a tournament, Thursday’s 56-41 home loss to Florida State came without a hint of a silver lining.

Clemson was thrashed in the friendly confines by a Seminole team that absolutely no one had penciled in for the Final Four, and with Duke coming in Saturday — well, that could be bad.

But it was anything but bad.

For Brownell and his young men, it was absolutely fabulous.

The Tigers don’t beat the Blue Devils often, especially with a team that has no seniors, three sophomore starters and relies on a freshman who had to redshirt a year ago while recovering from a broken leg.

But the team on the floor Saturday — the one that thumped Duke 72-59 — was the same team that did a face plant against FSU.

The same team, just very, very different less than 48 hours later.

“We’re trying to do things right on and off the court and play tough-minded, physical basketball and we showed that,” Brownell said. “At halftime we really weren’t playing that way. We didn’t play well against Florida State, especially offensively, that’s obvious. But if you saw the film and saw how competitive our guys were defensively in the game, I wasn’t as mad as everybody in Tiger Nation was after the game.”

How could it happen?

How could these same kids not only rebound from such a poor showing but do it with weary legs?

“We’re in really good condition,” said Clemson center Jaron Blossomgame, who had 14 points and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes of very hard work on Saturday — and whose leg seems to be just fine, thanks. “We have a great training program and we knew the minute that game was over we had to get ready for Duke.

“Everybody was going to bring the energy to this one.”

Brownell, through 15 games, 11 victories and four defeats, has seen the best and the worst of his guys.

What he hasn’t seen is lack of effort.

And what 9,842 fans saw at Littlejohn Coliseum on Saturday was just how good this team can be when it backs up that tireless effort with hot shooting and great defense.

“Certainly, our guys were terrific around the rim,” Brownell said. “I thought Landry Nnoko grew up a little today. I thought our leaders, Rod (Hall) and K.J., did a great job being leaders and were warriors out on the court.”

The trick, of course, is finding consistency, and consistency is rarely a virtue of youth.

Young people can be all over the map and young people who happen to play basketball at a high level can be all over the court with wildly varying results.

But there were two common themes among the 10 young men who hit the hardwood for Clemson on Saturday.

Every single one played their tail off and every single one had a good time doing it.

“Most definitely this is the biggest win since I’ve been here,” said junior forward K.J. McDaniels, who put up 24 points and pulled down 10 caroms against Mike Krzyzewski’s bunch. “We’re a much better team than the one that lost to Florida State. And we showed that today and we want to show it the rest of the way.”

If that happens, Brownell will be doing a lot more smiling and a lot less yelling as the ACC schedule gets down to cases.

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