CLEMSON — Clemson’s win against Virginia offered a roadmap to how it can become relevant in March.
In the Tigers’ win Saturday, the seniors took the lead. Devin Booker and Milton Jennings combined for 36 points and 20 rebounds. They took 23 of Clemson’s 33 shots and were aggressive, confident and productive.
But can they follow with a repeat performance against Wake Forest today (7 p.m., ESPNU)?
“It’s their turn to take the responsibility of being our primary players,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “Certainly those guys need to play well for us to win. When they play at a high level, it takes pressure off of the other guys.”
Booker has offered more glimpses of consistency.
Against Virginia, Booker was three rebounds shy of his third straight double-double to open ACC play. Booker has played more in the low post this season after frustrating fans and staff for years by settling for perimeter jumpers.
Booker is averaging 15.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in ACC play.
“He’s more comfortable playing with his back to basket,” Brownell said. “When I got here, as big and as strong as he was, he wasn’t as comfortable playing with his back to the basket, catching a ball and making a lot of moves. I think it’s improved over the course of two years. His strength and his confidence right now are at high levels.”
Jennings said Brownell ran more plays for him during his 21-point breakout against Virginia. But Brownell said the performance was more attributed to the Pinewood Prep product working hard for shot opportunities. Jennings took 13 shots, nearly doubling his average of 7.3 shots per game.
Jennings said he is starting to become more comfortable taking on a leadership role.
“It’s been a process,” he said. “I’ve been around strong leaders most of my career. But I love yelling. I love the intensity that’s in my game. I looked at faces of my teammates during the game and they liked (my emotion).”
Brownell wants to see his senior forwards shooting more free throws, a product of aggressive play underneath.
Booker and Jennings combined to average just three free throw attempts per game, but against Virginia, Booker made 12 trips to the line.
“You have to work to get shots,” Brownell said. “That’s one of things I’ve talked to them about. You have to get fouled, you have to get to the free throw line to be a big scorer. The good players, they go make some things happen for themselves.”
And if Booker and Jennings create more opportunities for themselves, they might create opportunities for their team come March.