CLEMSON — The No. 19 Clemson Tigers (13-1, 3-0 ACC) will look to improve on a red-hot start to the 2017-18 season as they head to Raleigh to take on the N.C. State Wolfpack (11-5, 1-2 ACC) Thursday night (9 o’clock, ESPN).
The Tigers enter the game as one of the hottest teams in the country, having won 10 straight, sitting in first place in the ACC and tied for first in the country in win percentage (93.3).
The Tigers are averaging nearly 78 points per game but it is defense that is getting the job done. Clemson ranks fourth best in the ACC, allowing only 63.5 points per game.
“We certainly have gotten off to a good start. I really like how my guys have been playing,” head coach Brad Brownell said. “We had a really good win in a defensive struggle against Louisville over the weekend, but our team has shown some different things. We can win a couple of different ways, which I think makes us a little bit better than last year and we’ve got five guys scoring in double figures. So we have some good depth … in terms of our scoring. I think that this team has improved defensively over last year’s team.”
For Brownell and company, success is a direct result of building from within and not adding one-and-done freshmen or junior college transfers.
In fact, it is the buy-in from players who have been in the system for a few years that has led to success the likes of which hasn’t been seen in Tiger Town in eight years.
“I just think that you are working every year to add good players to your roster, for sure,” Brownell said. “But for us, a lot of times we’re going to be good when we’re older. We have some older guys that have been in our program, so they have a pretty good understanding of how we do things. And we’ve made this summer and the fall a little bit more demanding from a defensive standpoint. We worked on it more.
“We’ve challenged our guys more this offseason than some other seasons to try to get their attention in that area we thought where we needed to take the biggest strides in if we were going to have a successful team this year.”
As much as basketball is a team game, and success is dependent on more than one player, Marcquise Reed has shown an ability to single-handedly take over a game — on offense and defense.
The redshirt junior is in his third year — second year of eligibility -- in the program after transferring from Robert Morris and sitting out the 2015-16 season per NCAA transfer rules. Last season, Reed appeared in all 33 games for the Tigers and averaged 21.5 minutes off the bench. He ended the season as one of four Tigers to average double-figures scoring for the season (10 points).
This year, Reed appears to have taken his game to another level. Through the first 14 games, he is one of just 15 players in the nation, and the only player in the ACC, to average at least 15.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, three assists and 1.5 steals per game.
“He’s continued to improve. He’s always been a guy that can score. He’s a shotmaker,” Brownell said. “He’s a guy that makes different kinds of shots. He’s just wired that way. But I think what he’s got better at, or continued to work at, is No. 1 defending. He’s a guy that is active with his hands and gets his hands on a lot of balls. His on-ball defense has gotten better. Just being in our system another year, and being thrown out there for a full 30 minutes, and going at it and holding him accountable to defending better has helped improve him.
“But he’s certainly a very talented player that can do multiple things on the offensive end of the floor, and he’s emerged into a better defender this year.”
The Tigers will need Reed and the rest of their team to be at their best if they hope to travel to Raleigh and emerge with a victory against a Wolfpack team that is fresh off an 11-point victory over the second-ranked Duke Blue Devils Saturday night.
“Obviously they played great against Duke the other night. They had a phenomenal win, and I feel like everybody played well,” Brownell said. “They have big, strong, physical size. They are excellent rebounders, and (head coach) Kevin (Keatts) has them playing well, playing hard. When they are really playing well, they can play with anybody in our league, as evidenced by their play the other night.
“We know that playing at their place is going to be an electric atmosphere and we’re going to have to play extremely well, extremely hard. We’re going to have to be physical. We’re going to have to have to do a good job on the glass in the game to win.”