Clemson's McDaniels needs teammates to step up

North Carolina's J.P. Tokoto and Nate Britt battle Clemson's K.J. McDaniels for a loose ball during Sunday's game in Chapel Hill. (AP Photo/The Herald-Sun, Bernard Thomas)

CLEMSON - At some point, K.J. McDaniels was going to get asked the question about needing scoring help from the players around him, and he answered it the best way he could.

It's not in McDaniels' nature to rip teammates, even for the good of the team. Clemson head coach Brad Brownell has said it since preseason, that McDaniels prefers to lead by action and not by words.

"It'll come. He's not frustrated enough yet. He's too nice a guy," Brownell said following the Tigers' first losing streak of the season, falling to Pittsburgh and North Carolina by a combined 52 points this week.

"But he'll get to a point where if it continues, he will (rally his teammates.) We need a little bit of that. The players from within have to have some spirit and fight on their own. They need to be hurting over this."

So when it was posed to McDaniels he can't shoulder the offense all by himself for Clemson to prosper, he grimaced, a look as if to say, "yeah, I know."

But again, not in his nature to put that sentiment into words by getting in guys' faces.

"Ummmm . well, I know I had to come out and be aggressive," McDaniels said. "I felt like some of the guys tried, but we missed a few shots we should have made and we had a lot of defensive lapses."

True, the normally defensive-minded Tigers (13-6, 4-3 ACC) completely faltered the past week on the road at Pitt (a 76-43 loss Tuesday) and at UNC (80-61 Sunday), the two highest point totals Clemson has allowed this year.

But it's the games when Clemson fails to shoot 40 percent from the floor, when it seems like it's McDaniels or bust to put the ball through the hoop, when it forces the Tigers to play perfect defense for 40 minutes to compete against ACC teams built for March.

"If we don't defend at a high level, we can't play with the best teams in this league," Brownell said. "We're not talented enough."

The Tigers shot 32 percent at Pitt and 34 percent at UNC, though the latter number is more generous than in actuality: at the time Rod Hall hit a 3-pointer with 13:06 to play, Clemson was trailing 54-23 and had made just six of 34 attempts (17.6 percent).

In the first half, McDaniels had 11 of his 13 team-high points, but the rest of the Tigers had 10 points.

"K.J. competed at a high level tonight. He played harder than anybody on our team tonight," Brownell said. "13 points, those were hard-earned points, because he doesn't have enough help right now. I thought he played pretty well, when their whole team's geared to stop him."

McDaniels opened 4 for 9 while his teammates started 2 for 25 in allowing UNC to run out to a 31-point lead.

"I know they have confidence in me, but I need to let them know I have a lot of confidence in them too," McDaniels said. "Just find a way to do different things. Find ways to get my guys doing. If I do different things on the court, it helps them out more. Just find a way to be better."

McDaniels remains No. 8 in the ACC in scoring with 16.2 points per game, having reached double figures in 17 of his 19 games.

"We all gotta help him," center Landry Nnoko said. "He's our leader this year. He's done a really good job. We've got to find more guys to help carry this team."

No one else is averaging 10 points per game for the Tigers, whose 64.5 points per game ranks 14th out of 15 ACC teams.

"You just gotta make more shots. When you're not doing that, it puts unbelievable pressure on your defense," Brownell said. "It's hard to keep defending at a high level, especially on the road, when you just don't get any reward and feel like, OK, we scored, let's get our defense set. You're constantly on your heels as they push it at you."