Tigers, Bruins to battle for Big Apple

CLEMSON - No, this isn't Belmont-Abby, the small school near Charlotte. This is Belmont University, the OVC team from Nashville that regularly plays in The Big Dance.

WHAT: Clemson vs. Belmont
WHERE: Clemson, S.C. - Littlejohn Coliseum
WHEN: Tuesday, March 25 (7 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson -7.5
TV: ESPN (Rich Hollenberg, Jimmy Dykes)

The winner of Tuesday night's game between Clemson and Belmont will advance to the NIT semifinals in New York.

The following is an edited transcript of Monday afternoon's interview with Brad Brownell.

Now that you've had a chance to look at Belmont, has anything changed from what you told us [Sunday]?
Brownell: No, not really. Just reaffirms what I already know. Really hadn't seen Belmont play much this year, but obviously watched them a lot in the last 24 hours. Outstanding shooting team, guys really know how to play, space the court, play with great pace. I think that's the thing that surprises me a little bit is how fast they play offensively, because they're so skilled, they can play at a fast-pace and not turn the ball over as much as some teams. They shoot the first good shot they get and often times it's early in the clock. It's an open 3 or it's a penetration into the paint to make a play. Scrappy, very confident team, a team that plays with a swagger, as you would expect. It's a completely different game than what we were just playing, so that probably makes it more challenging, in terms of the short prep. You're playing a team that, the last team we played was kind of like, ‘Pack the paint, we'll give up some 3s, don't let them get very many drives, try not to allow them get second shots.' This game, they're going to get into the paint some, probably. We don't want to give up as many 3s. You've still got to rebound. They do a good job of rebounding. They're not big. They come from all places, because there are a lot of 3s being shot. There's a lot of long rebounds. They get extra possessions, so that makes it a little more challenging, in terms of your defensive discipline, because your instincts are always to help.

In this matchup, are you OK with K.J. [McDaniels] playing the 4 for the majority of the game?
Brownell: We'll have to see again. Certainly, I think, he's going to need to do that. We're going to need perimeter players to help guard the 3, but we're going to have to see how it goes. There are some things that he hasn't guarded as often as other players. Jaron [Blossomgame] is used to some things, just because he's been doing it all year. K.J., in spot minutes, has played the 4, but there are some things that are unique that he has to get better at, and certainly we're going to keep talking to him about it over the next 24 hours.

What do they do defensively? Do they try to speed things up there too?
Brownell: Not really, but they go for steals. They'll pressure you a little bit. They go for a passing lane. They'll steal a ball under the post. They'll dig and trap in the post some. Occasionally, they'll come trap you. They don't play a lot of zone, but occasionally they'll mix in a little bit of zone. They're just pesky. They're so smart. They're in the right place a lot. They're well schooled that way. Certainly we have an advantage physically, but their peskiness, their basketball IQ makes them hard to play against. They get a lot of steals because their instincts are so good.

Have you played anybody like that this year?
Brownell: They're like Georgia State in that Georgia State was skilled offensively in making 3s. These guys are more skilled, but Georgia State was that way, in terms of offensive efficiency, making shots, having a 4-man that can make 3s. They probably didn't shoot as well as these guys, but that's a little bit of a similarity, in terms of just the offensive end. Davidson isn't quite the same. Davidson plays fast, but they can't shoot like Belmont, at least not this year.

Is there a guy on this team that you look at on this team and are like, ‘He's a really good player.'?
Brownell: They have two or three really good players. J.J. Mann is, obviously, OVC Player of the Year. He's one of those guys, he's 6-6, you look at him and you're like, ‘OK, he's a good player.' He's probably a little faster than you think, shoots it a little better than you think, drives it a little better than you think. He plays with supreme confidence. Craig Bradshaw, their 2-guard, I think, is outstanding -- hard-driver, can make 3s, aggressive, and I think, again, put a couple of guys like that together and they're supremely confident together in their system. They're very confident in their coach. Now, all of a sudden, you have guys that are playing at a really high level. I think you're seeing that with this team. Really, their 4-man, Drew Windler, is a matchup nightmare for a lot of people, because he's 6-9 and he shoots 3s. He shoots them high. He's like [Jon] Ekey for Illinois, same type of player. If you're not on his shoe tops, he's going to shoot. Because he's 6-foot-9, he's shooting over you. You just don't run into many guys that can do those things and do it moving. Both those guys can do it, Ekey makes a 3 where he's under the basket and they run him off a screen running away from the basket, and he shoots it in. It's one thing to stand there [spot up] and shoot. It's another thing to stand under the basket at 6-foot-7 or 8 and do that. Windler is a little bit like that. He can run away from the basket and hit runaway 3s. We don't have a lot of guys on our team that can make a high percentage of runaway 3s. Those are hard shots. To be 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-9 like Windler, he'll do that. He's a matchup problem.

Because of the short turnaround, does it work in your favor that your team doesn't have much time to worry about what could be next, beyond Tuesday?
Brownell: Yeah, maybe, but I think everybody knows. At the beginning of the tournament, that's kind of everybody's – that's all the announcers say, I guess even the coaches, we've mentioned it -- that's like the big key for the NIT. Hey, ‘Let's get to New York.' Every team, I'm sure every coach comes in at every meeting and asks them, ‘Wouldn't this be great to get to New York?' Get to New York. Get to New York. So, I mean, they've been hearing it for a couple of weeks. Whether it's from [reporters], [coaches] or whatever, so they know that. I would probably rather have the extra days in practice, to be honest with you.

PROBABLE STARTERS
Belmont, 26-9 (14-2 OVC)
G #22 Reece Chamberlain - 11.0 PPG, 5.4 APG (6-1, 180)
G #23 Craig Bradshaw - 15.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG (6-3 210)
G #24 J.J. Mann - 18.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG (6-6, 215)
G #2 Blake Jenkins- 8.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG (6-8, 220)
C#1 Drew Windler- 10.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG (6-9, 215)

Clemson, 22-12 (10-8 ACC)
G #12 Rod Hall - 9.7 PPG, 3.9 APG (6-1, 210)
G #20 Jordan Roper - 7.2 PPG, 1.7 RPG (5-11, 165)
G #21 Damarcus Harrison - 7.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG (5-11, 165)
G #21 Damarcus Harrison - 7.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG (5-11, 165)
F #32 K.J. McDaniels - 17.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG (6-6, 200)
C #35 Landry Nnoko - 6.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG (6-10, 250)

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