CLEMSON — Yeah, yeah, it was a good week for K.J. McDaniels.
Inside the Game: Clemson vs. Temple
Clemson (3-0) vs. Temple (1-2), Charleston Classic
WHEN: Thursday, 8 p.m.
WHERE: TD Arena
WEB/RADIO: ESPN3.com; CTSN
RECORDS (2012-13): Clemson 13-18, 5-13 ACC; Temple 24-10, 11-5 Atlantic-10
NOTES: Temple is 2-1 in the series, but the previous meeting was in the 2008 Charleston Classic championship game, which Clemson won 76-72. In Sunday’s 71-57 win over South Carolina, Clemson made 24-of-26 free throws, a school record for percentage with at least 25 attempts. Temple has lost to Kent State and Towson, but four of its starters are averaging at least 13.3 points through three games.
Now do it again. And again, and again.
There’s the rub, as the Clemson men’s basketball team has produced a fine start (3-0, with a solid 14-point win Sunday over South Carolina) but has 90 percent of its season looming, including the new-look, rough-and-tumble ACC slate.
McDaniels (17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.3 blocks per game) and guards Rod Hall and Jordan Roper (each with 10.3 points and 3.7 assists) have held up their end so far after head coach Brad Brownell demanded that trio step up as team leaders for a senior-less squad.
Too early to get excited?
“Yeah, it definitely is,” Brownell said. “They’re definitely working at it. They have a ways to go, but it’s a process. You don’t just all of a sudden say you’re a leader, and one or two good outcomes makes you a great leader. I mean, you have to fight through a long season and earn your spurs a little bit.”
McDaniels took part in summer skills academy camps run by LeBron James and Kevin Durant, two guys who know a thing or two about being the alpha dog.
“K.J.’s trying to take the next step from being that role player or that third scorer that he kind of was last year, to being the primary guy,” Brownell said. “There’s a lot that goes with that. It’s hard to put up those kinds of numbers consistently, and then to help everybody else out every night like everybody wants you to do.”
So, what’s it gonna take for the 6-6 junior forward from Birmingham, Ala.?
“I feel like you have to not be scared of anything, no matter who’s on the court,” McDaniels said. “To establish myself, I have to make my presence known. I did that in that (South Carolina) game, and I have to keep doing it.”
McDaniels had four thunderous dunks and seven blocks against the Gamecocks, most critically making plays on both ends of the floor when Clemson’s healthy advantage was whittled to 40-39 in the second half. When McDaniels took the lead, his team followed to keep USC at arm’s length.
“We’re tougher than last year,” redshirt freshman forward Jaron Blossomgame said. “Some games we’d miss free throws down at the end, we’d blow defensive assignments. They made a run early in the second half, and I feel like the team last year would have just let the game be close and play it on out from the end.
“But we put the foot on the gas pedal and kept pushing the ball and started getting stops on defense, which helped us build a lead.”
The next three tests for the Tigers will be in the Lowcountry, starting Thursday night at approximately 7:30 p.m. against 2013 NCAA tournament qualifier Temple (1-2) in the Charleston Classic.
Clemson will either play Georgia or Davidson Friday, and depending on where the compass draw takes the Tigers, they’ll finish Sunday against New Mexico, Nebraska, UAB or UMass.
“You usually play very good competition in these events,” Brownell said. “Neutral court game, so it feels like a road game, in all honesty, most of the time. Hopefully we’ll have enough Clemson people there that it’ll feel a little bit more like a home game for us.”
There are 40 teams from major conferences with a 3-0 start or better, but this is the Tigers’ first venture to three season-opening wins since Brownell’s opening campaign in Clemson in 2010-11.
“This team feels good about themselves. They really get along; it shows in our play,” Brownell said. “I think our guys have been very spirited. It hasn’t been easy because it’s very competitive in practice and everybody wants to play.”
New Mexico (3), Temple (9) and Davidson (14) were each seeded in the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Yet Clemson feels it can compete for a crown on Sunday; the title game is 9 p.m. televised by ESPN2.
“I feel like we can honestly win this tournament,” Blossomgame said, “or play pretty good.”