Closer Look: Clemson

By any measure, Clemson is a "pretty good" team this season.

It's the transition to "very good" that has the Tigers bewildered.

"When you get to the highest level, to go from being pretty good to really good, you have to be clicking on all cylinders -- and offensively we weren't there today," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said after his team's 64-62 loss to No. 21 North Carolina on Feb. 12.

Indeed, Clemson was teetering on the edge of middle-of-the-pack status in the ACC following the loss to the Tar Heels. The Tigers were 2-4 against teams that were .500 or better in league play, which explains Brownell's frustration as he tries to get his first Clemson team over the hump.

Defense hasn't been a problem, as strong defensive efforts have kept the Tigers in every game and pushed them to the top of the league in opponents' scoring average, but the offense has been a bit slower to develop. The root of the problem has been offensive decision-making late in games.

"It's a mentality that we're trying to bring to the program," Brownell said. "It's a fight every day in terms of understanding the value of every possession and working to get good shots and working together to find a way to get our team the best shot possible.

"Instead, we get a little antsy and put our head down and try to make a play that's not really there. That's a small difference between us and North Carolina right now."

* Clemson's 64-62 loss to North Carolina on Feb. 12 was the Tigers' first ACC defeat at Littlejohn Coliseum this season. Entering the game, the Tigers had won 13 of 14 league home games over the past two seasons.

* Clemson won't get another shot at North Carolina at Littlejohn Coliseum for a while. The Feb. 12 game was UNC's last appearance at Clemson until the 2012-13 season. The two teams only play in Chapel Hill, N.C., next season.

* Clemson won the rebound battle by a 47-36 margin in its Feb. 12 loss to North Carolina. It was the Tigers' best rebound margin since a plus-15 margin against Delaware State on Dec. 27 and their best rebound margin against an ACC opponent since a 12-rebound advantage against Virginia Tech on Feb. 6, 2010.

BY THE NUMBERS: 14 -- Consecutive games in which senior G Demontez Stitt had more assists than turnovers before the Tigers' loss to North Carolina on Feb. 12, when Stitt had three assists and four turnovers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It gets old, but at the end of the day, we have to step up and make plays." -- Clemson junior G Andre Young, after the Tigers' 64-62 loss to No. 21 North Carolina on Feb. 12.

LOOKING AHEAD TO N.C. STATE: Clemson had to stage its biggest comeback ever in an ACC game to erase a 19-point deficit and beat N.C. State at Littlejohn Coliseum on Jan. 25.

This much is certain -- the Tigers can't afford to get into a big early hole again against the Wolfpack because a comeback won't be as easily accomplished on N.C. State's home floor. Jerai Grant and Devin Booker, who both disappeared in a loss to North Carolina on Feb. 12, will have to emerge again against the Wolfpack, which has several powerful inside players who are hitting their stride: Tracy Smith, C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell.

FUTURES MARKET: Milton Jennings continues to show flashes of brilliance, and continued contributions from the 6-foot-9 sophomore could be integral to Clemson's success down the homestretch. Jennings is prone to turnovers, and his aggressiveness is lacking at times, but he looked plenty confident in the Tigers' 64-62 loss to North Carolina on Feb. 12, notching his first career double-double in ACC play with 15 points and 12 rebounds. The 15 points were one off his career high, and his rebound total was a career high.

"He was very locked in," Brownell said of Jennings. "He was aggressive in trying to make plays."

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