Loss to Pitt propelled Clemson
For Clemson junior forward K.J. McDaniels, losing 76-43 at Pitt on Jan. 21 was an advanced course in Basketball 101. Following midseason adjustments, the Tigers have won four of five entering a 4 p.m. rematch Saturday against the Panthers at Littlejohn Coliseum.
“We learn from our wins, and we also learn from our losses,” said McDaniels, a 6-foot-6 junior from Birmingham, Ala., who leads Clemson in scoring (16.9 points per game) and rebounding (7.2 per game) and leads the ACC in blocks (82). “This season has been a learning experience for us.”
Pitt and Clemson need to pass their final regular-season tests to improve their chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
The Panthers (22-8, 10-7) don't want to close with five defeats in seven games before next week's conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C. Conversely for Clemson (19-10, 10-7), keeping on a roll only boosts its cause.
McDaniels said losing by 33 points at Petersen Events Center two months ago — a game in which the Panthers shot 56 percent, including 53 percent from 3-point range — showed Clemson's players how much they needed to improve.
Since then, Clemson has shored up its defense. The Tigers entered the week ranked No. 2 nationally in scoring defense (56.8 ppg) and, thanks primarily to McDaniels, No. 17 in blocks per game (5.9). The Tigers have permitted 70 points only once in their past 10 games.
“The first time we played Pittsburgh, we weren't playing the defense we're known for,” said McDaniels, who averages 2.8 blocks. “We set our program behind defense. I believe good defense leads to good offense. We have to know where to be at the right time at the defensive end, but I feel like I have a lot to do with that, being able to protect the rim and guard a variety of players.”
Pitt senior center Talib Zanna had his way in the first meeting, scoring 22 points in 21 minutes on 9-for-10 shooting. McDaniels' challenge is making sure Zanna doesn't dominate again.
Working in McDaniels' favor is his reputation as a shot blocker.
“I used to watch a lot of NBA highlights, and shot-blocking always looked fun,” he said. “My presence on defense makes teams wonder where I am on the court. It gives them a look of fear. I have the ability to do that every game.”