GAME NOTES: Longtime foes are set for a Sunday afternoon showdown, as the Clemson Tigers play host to the South Carolina Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks opened the 2013-14 campaign in promising fashion with an 82-44 rout of Longwood on Nov. 9, but while they put up a great fight on the road against Baylor last Tuesday, they fell just short in a 66-64 final.
Clemson is wrapping up a three-game homestand to start the season and has won its first two bouts versus Stetson (71-51) and Delaware State (58-37). The fast start on their home floor is a great sign for the Tigers, who lost each of their final four games at Littlejohn Coliseum a season ago.
These bitter rivals have seen plenty of one another other the years, with South Carolina holding an 88-75 series advantage. Clemson claimed last season's matchup in Columbia however, 64-55.
South Carolina gave Baylor everything it had in a game that featured 13 ties and nine lead changes, but after it knotted the score at 64-64 with 4:20 left on a Sindarius Thornwell jumper, the team didn't score another point as Baylor prevailed. The Gamecocks shot just 36 percent from the field in the setback, but they were aided by an active night at the free-throw line (25-of-36). Thornwell led the way with 20 points while also causing a disruption at the defensive end with three steals. Brenton Williams tallied 12 points off the bench, and Tyrone Johnson chipped in with eight points and eight assists. On top of a solid scoring effort (73.0 ppg), coach Frank Martin's squad has played excellent defense, holding opposing teams to just 29.9 percent field goal shooting and 55.0 points per game. Thornwell (17.0 ppg), Johnson (13.0 ppg, 5.0 apg), Williams (13.0 ppg) and Michael Carrera (10.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg) have made the biggest impacts in the early going.
The Tigers are also no stranger to outstanding performances at the defensive end of the court, as they held Delaware State to just 26.7 percent shooting the last time out, and the 37 points allowed was the fewest the team has permitted at home since yielding 36 to North Florida back on Dec. 16, 2008. Fortunately, the stingy defensive effort masked a modest night on the scoreboard for Clemson, which shot just 19-of-47 from the field (.404). Damarcus Harrison provided a spark off the bench with 15 points, while K.J. McDaniels logged 11 points and five blocks. While the sample size is incredibly small, Clemson has nonetheless put up eye-popping numbers on defense, holding teams to just 44.0 points per game. The slow tempo allows the club to score just 64.5 points per game itself. McDaniels leads the way with 15.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, and he is the rare big man that can make an impact in the paint (six blocks) and out on the perimeter (5-of-12 from 3-point range). Harrison (12.5 ppg) is the only other player averaging in double figures.
South Carolina proved that it can hang with a good team on the road, so it will certainly have a strong chance at a victory in this one. But the Tigers get the benefit of the doubt on their home floor, as their defensive pressure should get to the Gamecocks down the stretch.
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