CLEMSON — During an entertaining halftime show at Littlejohn Coliseum on Tuesday afternoon, a mascot mackerel swallowed a guy.
Whether Clemson will fare any better in the shark tank of ACC basketball is an open question after the Tigers’ final tuneup game, a 92-51 trouncing of The Citadel before a New Year’s Day crowd of 7,124.
The 8-4 Tigers have recovered from a shocking 23-point loss at Coastal Carolina with two easy wins against overmatched squads, and racked up a season- best 92 points on 61.4 percent shooting against the 3-8 Bulldogs.
ACC play starts Saturday against Florida State, followed quickly by a trip to No. 1 Duke.
“Moving into conference play, it was good to see us shoot the ball well, make shots and have a convincing offensive performance,” said Tigers coach Brad Brownell, who got a career-best 21 points from freshman guard Adonis Filer.
And Clemson did it with minimal contributions from starting forward K.J. McDaniels, who sat out the first half after he was late for a team meeting, and senior center Devin Booker. Booker twisted an already sore ankle early in the second half and sat out the rest of the game.
Filer hit all seven of his shots and freshman guard Jordan Roper was 6 of 10 for 13 points as Clemson took advantage of 25 Citadel turnovers and pushed the ball up the floor, scoring 44 points off turnovers and 12 on the fastbreak.
“Coach has wanted us to keep pushing it more and more,” said Filer, who was 4 of 4 on 3-pointers. “That goes with our defensive rebounding. Once we get a stop, we’ve got to get the rebound and push it up the floor.”
That’s a style that Brownell likes against The Citadel, which has lost 15 straight to Clemson, and maybe not so much against Duke and North Carolina.
“In games when we feel like we have better players, we do like to speed the game up a little bit,” Brownell said. “We like it, especially at home, but I’m not sure we will do it a lot in ACC play. When you play better competition with better guards, they make you press at times so you have to be careful with that.”
Citadel coach Chuck Driesell certainly can relate, as his guards struggled against the longer, taller Tigers. The 25 turnovers marked a season-high for the Bulldogs, who have lost seven straight by an average of 28 points.
“I thought we’d handle the pressure a little bit better,” said Driesell, who got 13 points from senior Mike Groselle and an encouraging 11 from redshirt freshman Dylen Setzekorn. “We looked a little tentative and a little overwhelmed at times, and you can’t play that way.”
Still, there were signs of hope. Down 15-2 at St. Bonaventure and 20-3 at Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs actually led Clemson by 11-10 and trailed by just 18-16 ten minutes into the game. The Citadel shot 50 percent from the floor and held its own on the boards.
But a 29-4 run by the Tigers sealed the outcome in the first half, and the lead reached 43 in the second. The Bulldogs, 0-1 in the Southern Conference, begin a stretch of four straight league games at home Saturday against Western Carolina, their first home game since Nov. 24.
“Those games are very important,” said Setzekorn, who made 5 of 8 shots. “We’ve been dealing with adversity on the road. Now we have a chance to get some solid wins at home and get back on track.”
Booker spent the final minutes of the game with ice on his ankle, but Brownell said he didn’t think the injury was serious.
Citadel guard Lawrence Miller broke his nose in practice and played eight minutes with the nose taped up. Freshman guard Rae Robinson, who has yet to play after breaking his foot, participated in pre-game warmups. He could be cleared to play by Saturday’s game vs. Western Carolina.