CLEMSON — One game into the month, Clemson’s already had a dose of March madness.
Sunday, 40 minutes weren’t enough, or 45 — no, 50 were needed via double overtime to get back on track with a 77-73 win over Maryland. First-team All-ACC candidate K.J. McDaniels scored 26 over his 48 minutes played, adding 14 rebounds and six blocks. It was his ACC-leading fifth game of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
“A win (like Maryland) shows how hungry we are,” McDaniels said. “We were disappointed after the loss to Wake but we put that behind us. I think we’re showing that we’re a team that can keep fighting.”
After a preseason next-to-last projection, the Tigers reached nine ACC wins (18-10 overall) for only the ninth time in school history. They can hit the 10-win mark for the first time since the 2007-08 — and the four time ever — against Miami Tuesday (8 p.m. tip).
Clemson is in position to grab as high as a five seed in next week’s ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., with a home sweep of the Hurricanes and then Pittsburgh on Saturday.
“Everybody’s confident,” junior guard Damarcus Harrison said. “We want to be playing in March and that’s what we keep talking about, just playing and winning in March. We’ve played one game at a time and now we have 18 wins and that’s surprised a lot of people.”
Where they will play in March past next week appears to be the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), but Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski went to bat for teams like Clemson and Florida State on the outside looking in on the ACC coaches' teleconference Monday.
“The only thing I’m concerned about at this time is that we might have only five teams in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “You’re talking about four teams that are going to be really high seeds. That means teams in our conference play anywhere from four to eight games against those teams. I don’t think that’s done in many conferences.
“At this time two weeks from now, I’m hoping I’m congratulating seven-to-eight teams from the ACC.”
Ironically, the 13-point win over Duke in January is Clemson’s main calling card resume-wise. Clemson and Florida State are two of seven ACC teams in Ken Pomeroy’s top-50 rankings, but they are both in the triple-digits in nonconference strength of schedule. In fact, the Tigers’ rank (265) is fourth-lowest among “Big Five” conferences.
What Clemson has to do period — is win — and the task at hand won’t be easy.
Miami (15-14, 6-10) has an opportunity to grab its fifth conference road win of 2014 in Littlejohn.
Last time out, they outscored N.C. State by 14 in the second half for a 85-70 win in Raleigh with five players in double-figures. In team makeup, they are the anti-Clemson with four senior starters.
“They have an older group,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “You watch them on film and physically they are a tough team...The way they’ve played on the road — Jim (Larranaga) has done a good job. They are certainly calm and their zone helps them keep games close. They’ve been tough-minded and found ways to win. They are playing good basketball.”
The Tigers and ‘Canes are both among the slower-paced teams in ACC play, ranking 13th (58.7) and 14th (58.1) in possessions per 40 minutes respectively.
While Clemson is top-10 nationally in field goal percentage defense (39) and 3-point “D” (27.9) — Miami is second in conference action in field goal defense (40) and second in 2-point field goal “D” (42.9).
As former CAA foes, Brownell is looking for his first win in four tries since Larranaga took over in south Florida, and he might have found some success Sunday in increasing the tempo, where they had 88 possessions.
“We were trying to push the ball as much as we could,” said Brownell, “especially when Maryland missed and I thought we got great shots. Our guys kept looking over, and I think they were looking for us to slow them down and I kept telling them to push it.”