CLEMSON — The Clemson men's basketball team has won three of its previous four contests, including an upset victory over then-No. 3 Duke on Jan. 14, but the Tigers face a stiff test Saturday afternoon.
Coach Brad Brownell's team hits the road to challenge No. 6 Louisville, winners of five straight contests. The Cardinals have five players averaging eight or more points a game, including forward Jordan Nwora (19.1 points per game).
A road win over one of the nation's top-ranked teams would mark another signature win for Clemson (10-8, 4-4 ACC), but Louisville (16-3, 7-1) won't go down easily. The Tigers fell just short in their previous meeting with the Cardinals — a 56-55 loss on Feb. 1, 2019 — but this Louisville team has made great strides since then.
Here are four keys to victory for Clemson.
Limit Jordan Nwora behind the arc
Nwora, a junior, has shot 16 of 31 from behind the arc in his last six games and is shooting 43 percent from that distance this season.
The forward has the ability to score in other ways, too, but the deep ball opens things up for him and his teammates. He has the ability to shoot Clemson out of the game.
It'll be up to the Tigers to play strong perimeter defense on Nwora. Clemson held its previous opponent, Wake Forest, to 7-for-30 shooting from long range. Louisville has more talent than the Demon Deacons, but a similar showing Saturday — especially against Nwora — could go a long way toward an upset for Clemson.
Get Aamir Simms the ball
Simms scored just seven points against Wake Forest, but before that he had been on a hot streak. He poured in 18 points in the loss to N.C. State on Jan. 18, 25 points in the Duke win and 20 points in the victory at North Carolina on Jan. 11.
The 6-8, 240-pound forward can shoot it. But he can finish inside, too, using his strength and his array of post moves. He was the key to Clemson's win over the Blue Devils, and Brownell would be wise to get the big man the ball early and often Saturday.
Improve free-throw shooting
One of the few weak points for Clemson amid this stretch has been the team's free-throw shooting. The team shot 7 for 18 from the line against Wake Forest, 9 for 23 against N.C. State and 11 for 22 against Duke.
Teams aren't expected to be perfect from the line. But exceeding 50 percent shouldn't be too much of a challenge, either.
Improved free-throw shooting is the easiest way for Clemson to pick up some extra points. The Tigers generally haven't had trouble scoring in January, but they're also costing themselves points with their struggles from the line.
This is something Brownell likely honed in on in practice this week. It'll be interesting to see if there's a shift at Louisville.
Embrace road warrior mentality
Is there pressure on Clemson this weekend? Yes. The Tigers know what a win at Louisville would do for them. But it's imperative Clemson not focus too much on the result and the raucous environment that'll be waiting inside the KFC Yum! Center.
Louisville fans are passionate and loud. They will try to make things difficult for Clemson. The Tigers, though, should lean on their experience from earlier in the month, when they beat North Carolina on the road for the first time in 60 tries.
Clemson has proven it can go into a difficult setting and leave victorious. To do so again Saturday would go a long way toward making this season a success.