Tigers try to right ship at FSU

MARK CRAMMER/INDEPENDENT MAIL
Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels, left, and Jaron Blossomgame watch the final seconds of their basketball game from the bench at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill Sunday. North Carolina won, 80-61, to keep their winning streak against the Tigers in Chapel Hill at 57-0.

Photo by Mark Crammer

MARK CRAMMER/INDEPENDENT MAIL Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels, left, and Jaron Blossomgame watch the final seconds of their basketball game from the bench at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill Sunday. North Carolina won, 80-61, to keep their winning streak against the Tigers in Chapel Hill at 57-0.

Under coach Brad Brownell, Clemson has started 4-3 or 3-4 in ACC action each of his four seasons in TigerTown.

Coming off a pair of rough losses, the Tigers find themselves in fifth place (13-6, 4-3 ACC) heading into a third consecutive road contest, at Florida State (13-7, 4-4), at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Back in the 16-game conference schedule — and with more veteran squads — Brownell’s bunch finished 5-4 down the stretch in 2010-11 and 2011-12. But in the first installment of the 18-game grind, Clemson struggled mightily last season, going 2-9 into the ACC Tournament where they fell, 73-69, to Florida State.

Brownell says last week’s twin double-digit losses are no reason to panic, but they did show something all too familiar.

“I don’t know that losing to Pittsburgh and North Carolina (shows) we’ve started a swoon,” he said. “We’re in a very difficult stretch where we’re playing five out of six (on the road). It’s just like last year. Our margin to win is not great right now. We have to play very well to win, especially on the road.”

Brownell is focused more on improvement than the results navigating this travel-heavy section of the schedule, which will shift to Syracuse then Notre Dame next week after a home date with Georgia Tech.

“When we play the teams we have to play here in this stretch, it’s going to be a challenge,” said Brownell. “We just need to play well. The wins and losses we’ll worry about later, but we have to play the game better than (last week) and that’s all we’re really focused on.”

The task in Tallahassee isn’t easy, but neither side is coming in hot.

Florida State is coming off an 0-2 road trip to The Triangle, blown out by Duke (78-56) and narrowly edged by N.C. State (74-70) — falling to even in ACC play.

After last week’s defensive issues (78 ppg), Clemson fell behind the now No. 1 Seminoles in field goal percentage defense (37.7) and two-point field goal percentage (40.5).

Florida State forced a season-high 18 Tiger turnovers (and scored 25 points off them) in a 56-41 win at Littlejohn on Jan. 9. The big-bodied ‘Noles outscored Clemson 44-16 in the paint.

In the series, FSU has won five in a row, and Brownell credits their coach, Leonard Hamilton.

“They’re more athletic than most teams in the league,” he said. “They have great size. You combine great athleticism with great size and Leonard does a good job of putting them in the right spots. They recover back to help.

“Leonard preaches defense and they’re one of the better defensive teams in the country. It’s an identity of theirs and their kids understand it.”

While Clemson’s defensive lapses of late have been a problem, the lid on the basket has only made it worse.

As a team, they shot 33 percent versus Pittsburgh and North Carolina. During a lengthy field-goal drought last Sunday, junior forward K.J. McDaniels had scored 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting, while the rest of his team made 2-of-25 attempts combined with 12 points.

“I felt like we took good shots,” McDaniels said postgame at UNC, “but sometimes they don’t go in. We just have to do more reps and find a different way to score, inside or out.”

Clemson is posting eight less points a game in ACC play than over the course of the season, averaging a negative-5.3 margin. Brownell says the offensive issues have bled over to their usually stout defense, and that has to change moving forward.

“A lot of pressure falls on guys like K.J. McDaniels and Rod (Hall) to make plays,” Brownell said. “There are times we break down and aren’t able to do that. We lost our confidence in the North Carolina game where we went through a drought. When that happened, we lost all of our defensive intensity and tenacity.

“That was the thing I was most disappointed with our team with (the play at UNC). We just have to get that back and understand that we win by defending people and get back to our identity.”

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