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Panthers ready for sputtering Clemson offense

By Jasper Wilson / Senior Staff Writer

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The Clemson men’s basketball team isn’t very good at offense.

The proof is in the statistics — the Tigers (8-6, 0-2 ACC) rank last in the ACC in scoring, second-to-last in scoring margin, last in field goal percentage with .425 — but Clemson head coach Brad Brownell also hestitantly admitted the team’s weakness.

“Scoring’s been a little bit of a problem for us this year,” Brownell said on Monday during the ACC coaches’ teleconference.

The issues don’t end there: Clemson is third-to-last in the ACC in 3-point percentage and last in assists. It’s also tied for second-to-last in turnover margin and scoring margin, as well as last in assist-to-turnover ratio.

“I think we’re a better shooting team than our stats,” Brownell said before reconsidering, “that’s really not the case. You are what your stats say you are. But I do think we can shoot the ball better.”

Despite these major struggles, Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon knows a team’s offensive success can shift suddenly, which was precisely what happened to the Panthers on Tuesday at Boston College. Trailing by as much as 10 late in the game, the Panthers were able to surge back and notch a 61-60 win in overtime.   

Pitt hosts the Tigers at the Petersen Events Center on Saturday in its first conference home game of the season. The team will need to build on, or, at least, maintain, its offensive performance from the later portion of the BC contest, while the visitors do the opposite, in order for Pitt to re-establish a winning streak. 

“It comes and goes,” Dixon said of offensive success. “There’s a lot of things that factor in, but it can change overnight. Just like it changed for us in the middle of a game offensively where we moved better and adjusted and started making some shots.”

But consistency has been an issue for Pitt (11-4, 1-1 ACC).

“Why it happens, why it doesn’t happen, you don’t know,” Dixon said.

Clemson’s problems began after losing its leading scorer, K.J. McDaniels — who was the Philadelphia 76ers’ second-round draft pick — to the NBA. The Tigers have yet to replace his offensive presence. 

“I think we’ve gotten reasonably good shots in some games and just haven’t made very many,” Brownell said. 

The lone bright spot in this area is Jaron Blossomgame, who averages 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest.

Dixon said the key to limiting the 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore, who can create matchup problems with his athleticism and height, is containing him on offense. By doing so, Dixon hopes to make it harder for him to collect offensive rebounds. 

“[He’s] the guy that really stepped up as far as the scoring. He played for them [last year], but he wasn’t scoring like this,” Dixon said. “He’s the guy they’re going to.”

McDaniels’ absence has also been felt defensively, said Brownell, whose team ranks ninth in the ACC in scoring defense. The Tigers average 5.7 blocks per game, good for fourth in the conference, and seventh in field goal percentage defense. 

“There’s been a little bit of a downturn there,” said Brownell. “Scoring droughts have put pressure on us. That’s been a little bit of a problem.” 

The fifth-year head coach also cited ball security as a reason for his team’s offensive struggles.

“We’ve also turned [the ball] over a couple more times a game, and, when you turn it over a lot of times, those are turnovers that can result in fast breaks. We’re more in transition because of a not-as-efficient offense.”

But it’s not as though the Tigers are incapable of coherent offensive performances, which they showed while beating No. 23 Arkansas, Auburn and LSU in nonconference play. Brownell said these wins began with strong defensive play. 

“It started with our defense,” Brownell said. “We’ve probably gotten a couple easier baskets and gotten off to good starts. That’s just allowed us to play the game with a little more confidence.” 

Toughness, rather than confidence, has been the issue for Pitt, according to sophomore Sheldon Jeter.

Jeter had his best performance of the season on Tuesday, scoring 11 points and grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Yet after playing the toughest they have all season in Boston, the challenge for the Panthers now becomes keeping up this energy the entire game, not just when the team is down.  

“When our backs were against the wall, we performed the best so far this year,” Jeter said. “So, now, we have to perform like that whenever our backs our aren’t against the wall. From the gate we have to learn how to perform like that.” 

Tipoff is scheduled for noon.

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Panthers ready for sputtering Clemson offense