McDaniels leads improved Tigers into ACC Tourney

Clemson coach Brad Brownell directs his team during an NCAA college basketball practice for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Photo by Gerry Broome

Clemson coach Brad Brownell directs his team during an NCAA college basketball practice for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

McDaniels 'surprised' by All-ACC honor

12th-ever Clemson first-teamer

CLEMSON – Brad Brownell saw “it” early recruiting K.J. McDaniels.

A raw athletic talent who had a lot of work to do, but someone who could be a force in the ACC and beyond.

Last season, McDaniels, as a sophomore, was second on the team and then also the only Clemson returner who averaged double-figures (10.9 ppg). He led the ACC in blocks per game (2.1).

“Because of the success he had last year, that really motivated him and excited him (to think) ‘I can be really good,’” Brownell said. “You saw a guy take another huge step. I think he’ll take another huge step or two before he’s done playing basketball. I think he’s a guy who can get better. It’s important to him.”

The Birmingham, Ala. native leads the Tigers (19-11) into Thursday’s ACC Tournament nightcap with Georgia Tech after a week of well-deserved honors for a breakout season.

McDaniels became only the 12th Clemson player to be named to the media’s All-ACC first-team. Tuesday, he was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year by both the media and the coaches – the first major award for a basketball Tiger since 1995 (Greg Buckner, rookie of the year).

“It’s a big accomplishment and I felt like I worked hard for it,” McDaniels said. “I felt like I deserved it. I just have to keep working and getting better.”

Name a statistical category – and McDaniels improved by leaps and bounds from last season, and he probably also led Clemson in it.

His averages jumped most in points (+6.3 ppg; 17.2) and free throw percentage (+16.3 percent; .847), but McDaniels also had substantial gains in rebounds (+2.1; 7.1), assists (+0.7; 1.5) and blocks (+0.7; 2.8).

Entering the ACC Tournament, he is tied for the ACC-lead in games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds (5). The 6-6 wing is the only player in the country leading his team in scoring, rebounding, three-pointers, blocks and steals.

“He’s improved as much as anybody I’ve coached,” Brownell said. “We knew he had a high ceiling when we recruited him. That was one of the things attracted us to him. He was a NBA talent athletically. The basketball part just had to come.”

There’s no question he’s willed the Tigers from a next-to-last preseason projection to a decent shot of being one of the ACC’s last left standing in Greensboro this weekend.

“He’s led us in a million categories and certainly impacted winning as much as any player in the league,” said Brownell said. “He helped our team achieve more than anyone thought.

“A big reason why he was first-team all-league was because of the success of our team this year.”

Despite a heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh last Saturday, the Tigers are showing as much balance as they have all season.

Clemson is third nationally in scoring defense (57.6) and top-25 in field goal ‘D’ (39.7). Four of their top ACC shooting performances have come in their last six games.

'14 season 'gratifying'

None

Before that stretch, Clemson hadn’t had back-to-back games with three Tigers in double-figures in conference action, but in all six they have had that contribution and two games with four in double-digits. Averaging 5.8 points previously, junior guard Damarcus Harrison averaged 12 points per game in the span.

“Guys are understanding their role more,” redshirt freshman forward Jaron Blossomgame said. “Damarcus (Harrison) has been making some big shots. Rod (Hall) has been playing well the past two weeks. I played well against Pittsburgh – (Jordan) Roper played well against Pittsburgh.

“We have a lot of guys stepping up and scoring here and there and that’s all we need because we know K.J. is going to be consistent like he’s been all season.”

McDaniels says they are working towards an extended stay in the Tar Heel State.

“We’re just hungry because we felt like we should have won last Saturday,” he said. “We’re going to go out there with the right mentality and go out there and fight and get as many wins as we can.”

Follow Brandon Rink on Twitter @brink_aim and OrangeandWhite.com @orangeandwhite live from Greensboro this week.

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