Preview: Clemson at No. 12 ND

Notre Dame will honor one of it's best out-going duo's in recent history today when senior captain Pat Connaughton and All-American Jerian Grant play their final games at the Purcell Pavilion.

• Game 31: Clemson (16-13; 8-9 ACC) at No. 12 Notre Dame (25-5; 13-4 ACC)
• Place: Purcell Pavilion
• Time: 4 p.m. ET
• Location: Clemson, S.C.
• Nickname: Tigers
2013-14 Record: 23-13 (10-8 in ACC)

Closing out his fifth season at the helm for the Tigers, head coach Brad Brownell and his squad appear on the outside-looking-in as they pursue the first NCAA Tournament berth at Clemson since his initial season, 2011.

Brownell earned the Tigers head job by first taking UNC-Wilmington to a pair of tournament appearances over a four-year span (2003 and 2006) and thereafter getting Wright State to the Big Dance in 2007.

He's posted a career mark of 257-156 in 13 seasons and earned the Mid-Major Coach of the Year award in 2006.

An Indiana native, Brownell graduated from DePauw University, earned his master's from the University of Indianapolis, and began his coaching career as an assistant under Jim Crews at Evansville, where he played high school ball as a teammate of state legend Calbert Cheaney.

After hanging close at Louisville (58-52 loss) and Pittsburgh (71-62 defeat) in early January, Clemson has floundered in road affairs, losing by 23 at Virginia, 11 at N.C. State, by 6 at Florida State, by 11 at Miami, 11 again at Georgia Tech, and by 22 at Duke.

The Tigers field goal percentage in ACC road games is an implausibly low 36.2 percent from the field (32 percent from beyond the arc).

At their best, the Tigers keep games close because of superior defense. They harass ball-handlers, defend the rim, and contest two-point shots. Power forward Jaron Blossomgame is their most effective weapon, averaging nearly 13 points per game with eight rebounds per contest. Blossomgame can hit the baseline jump shot, finish at the rim, and defend it as well.

Fellow forward Donte Grantham supplements Blossomgame's scoring efforts, hitting for 9.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He's coming off a 3 for 12 shooting effort in a home loss to NC State though he collected six offensive rebounds en route to a 12-point outing.

Grantham shoots far too often from long range (38-137, 27.7 percent), and the Irish will afford him that opportunity again today.

Off-guard Damarcus Harrison played well vs. Notre Dame in LittleJohn one month ago but he's struggled to regain that form since. Harrison averages 8.3 points and is the Tigers best long-range shooter (39-113, 34.5 percent), but has hit just eight of his last 30 field goal attempts over the last five games. His backcourt mate, senior guard Rod Hall, is more judicious a shooter (about two three-point attempts per game for a 31 percent shooter) and has been solid of late with 47 points and 21 assists over the last five outings.

The Tigers have size up front in the form of seven-foot center Landry Nnoko (7.2 points, 5.2 boards, 2.0 blocked shots). Nnoko has protected the glass recently with 17 blocks over a five-game stretch.

Backup guard Gabe DeVoe is one to watch today in South Bend. In just six minutes of action vs. NC State on Tuesday, DeVoe erupted for 18 points -- all in the final four minutes -- as the Tigers scrambled from behind in a home defeat.

The Tigers are the most offensively challenged team in the ACC -- a conference that includes Georgia Tech and Boston College, a sobering reality for Brownell's crew entering today's contest against the most efficient scoring machine in the nation.

(Clemson hit 10 of their first 16 field goal attempts against Notre Dame in the teams' first matchup but returned to form thereafter, hitting just 14 of their final 40 shots.)

Blossomgame led the hosts with 17 points and 14 boards while Harrison hit for 15 points, connecting on six of his eight field goal attempts including a trio of triples. One of Harrison's misses was an open three-point shot from the left wing that would have won the game at the buzzer for the underdog Tigers.

Notre Dame trailed by as many as eight and never led by more than four but prevailed thanks to 22 points and five assists from Jerian Grant, plus another 14 points and six boards by Pat Connaughton. Demetrius Jackson hit for 11 points and six rebounds in the 60-58 Irish win.

Today's senior day tussle shouldn't be close, but Clemson can make a game of it if they withstand an early surge of emotion by the sure-to-be focused Irish coupled with what should be a solid home crowd as weather has lightened a bit in South Bend.

Notre Dame has buried opponents by ending the first half strong and beginning the second half the same -- they've "stolen points" in such situations during wins over Wake Forest, Clemson, NC State, Miami, and Georgia Tech -- and have finished the first strong in wins at North Carolina and Louisville and started strong (if you consider 11 for 12 "strong") at Boston College.

The Tigers must avoid this recent Irish Danger Zone if they're to withstand the certain scoring flurries that await.

Look for Grant to control the game from the outset, for Demetrius Jackson to snap out of his puzzling home court funk, and for Bonzie Colson to be, well, Bonzie Colson: an effective finisher, post defender, rebounder, and presence in the passing lanes and in transition off the bench.

Key for Notre Dame going forward: can either of its struggling pair of shooters, captain Pat Connaughton or backup swingman V.J. Beachem, return to form?

Connaughton is mired in a 12 for 35 shooting slump -- one that coincides with a stomach virus that caused him to lose 15 pounds in mid-Februrary. Beachem has produced a trio of "0-fers" from the field over his last five outings. -- 8-22 from the field in that span.

At least one of the pair must hit a hot streak for the team's forthcoming tournaments -- both of them if the Irish are to play past the Sweet 16 in the one that matters most.

• Point Spread: Notre Dame -11
• Irish Illustrated Prediction: Notre Dame 72 Clemson 58
• Season Record: 20-10 straight up; 11-11 vs. points Top Stories