Ron Morris

Morris: Clemson, not USC, playing great defense

December 3, 2012 

— FRANK MARTIN EVENTUALLY will put his stamp of aggressive, shutdown defense on South Carolina basketball, much the way Brad Brownell has done in his three seasons at Clemson.

For most of Clemson’s 64-55 victory Sunday at Colonial Life Arena, Brownell’s Tigers put on a clinic on how to dominate a game at one end of the court. Clemson took USC out of its offense over long stretches, forced the Gamecocks into turnovers and generally made life miserable for the Gamecocks when they had possession of the ball.

“Bad offense. Just bad offense,” Martin said by way of explaining how USC shot 35 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 19 times. “We couldn’t make a pass from the point to the wing. Whenever we did pass, guys wouldn’t move. They’d stand and look.

“Give (Clemson) credit, now. They guard you. Give them credit, they guard you.”

Martin said when he and Brownell get together away from the basketball arena, their discussions often center on defense and how it needs to be played. Martin said he wants his team to play with the same competiveness and discipline on defense as Brownell’s team.

“Our style is different,” Martin said. “Brad and I sit there, and we’re just different in our styles. But as far as how we defend with toughness and attention to detail, we’re the same.

“Defense is No. 1 on their minds every day. It’s obvious when you watch them on film and when you line up and play against them, that their personality (on defense) is there all the time.”

Clemson’s defense, as it has all three seasons under Brownell, is predicated on applying intense pressure on the ball. The Tigers deny passing lanes, particularly to the post, and attempt to prevent the opposition from moving the ball where it wants on the court.

The results of that aggressive style have been particularly impressive early this season. When the NCAA released its first set of statistics last week, Clemson ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense by allowing 49.6 points per game.

In its opening seven games, Clemson has held six opponents to fewer than 60 points, and three below 50. It took USC slightly more than 10 minutes to open Sunday’s game before the Gamecocks hit double figures, and a few seconds shy of 10 minutes to do the same in the second half.

With a team virtually void of a top scoring threat – especially with senior forward Milton Jennings suspended – Clemson must play extraordinary defense on the other end of the court to win.

That style of play can be ugly, unless you learn to appreciate how Clemson can frustrate the opposition into poor shot selection and errant passes.

It is a defense that was at its best against 12th-ranked Gonzaga on Nov. 22. Although Clemson lost in the Old Spice Classic, it limited the Zags to 57 points, which was 37 below their season average.

USC saw that same kind of defense on Sunday.

“Every time we shot the ball (around the basket), somebody’s arm was all over that ball,” Martin said. “We need to learn how to do that. We’ve got guys that stand there and watch a little too much. We’ve got to get a little more competitive.”

Over the past three seasons, Clemson’s tenacious defense has become the great equalizer against more-talented opponents. As Martin and USC saw Sunday, it is the kind of defense the Gamecocks aim to play someday.

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