What's Worked For Clemson During This Tobacco Road Win Streak?
Sometimes, teams have to play to their weaknesses even more than their strengthens.
Clemson men’s basketball is a good example of that.
The Tigers aren’t an especially large team. Aamir Simms, the Tigers’ leading scorer and rebounder, is the team’s primary big man at 6-foot-7.
That can be problematic in some matchups, but Clemson coach Brad Brownell and his staff have found a way to use it to their advantage during a three-game win streak over N.C. State, North Carolina and No. 3 Duke this calendar year.
“We still have a slim margin compared to some teams, Brownell said. “We don’t have tremendous size, or some electric speed point guard that can break teams down and create baskets easily for himself and other guys. We have to work and execute and when we execute well we have a chance to be good.”
Using Simms in a variety of ways is just one reason the Tigers are playing better than they were when they lost six of seven contests from late November until the end of the year.
The Tigers have not let their size deficiencies keep them from defending, but as Brownell pointed out Thursday, Clemson has to shoot well to win. It’s helped to get healthier.
“I think it’s a culmination of a lot of things, as much as anything getting into a rhythm, and knowing who you have and who you don’t have,” Brownell said. “Sometimes that helps. We win a game or two and gain some confidence and hope to build on that momentum.”
Here’s a quick look at what else has gone right lately for the Tigers, who play at N.C. State at 2 p.m. Saturday:
Brownell said his team did some things when they won the World Games in Italy that didn’t translate when they got home. So the coaching staff has made several tweaks to the system.
Clemson is running more motion on offense and using Simms in many different ways.
“We are moving him around as much as we can,” Brownell said. “(Against) different teams, it’s going to be more problematic than others, it just depends on certain games. Against bigger guys, that’s hard if you’re not as mobile because he’s a mobile big man. He can do some things around the basket but he can also shoot the three and drive a little bit."
Simms has been shooting the 3 better; 16 of his 20 makes from downtown have come in the last eight games. He’s also been a better facilitator at the top of the key, and that motion offense has led to more slip screens and backdoor cuts that produce easy layups.
It can’t be overstated what having an experienced backcourt can do for an offense. Brownell said true freshman point guard Al-Amir Dawes has had to learn from his mistakes on the fly, and that’s slowed both his and this team’s development.
But Clyde Trapp is back. The junior guard, who tore his ACL in the offseason, has only played in six games and is only averaging 5.3 points per game, but his presence has created better floor spacing and passing lanes.
“I think having Clyde back has helped our team, having an older player that’s been through difficult end of games,” Brownell said. “While his numbers aren’t inspiring, like scoring a bunch of points, but he’s made a lot of good simple plays. Pocket passes to Amir, when UNC did their run and jump Clyde just bounced his dribble over, drew two, pocket passed to Amir and he laid it in. He executed the pass to Amir right on time, right on target for the shot to send it to overtime.
“He had a pocket pass to Amir in the last two minutes yesterday. He’s made a lot of good simple winning plays that our team needed. It settled us down a bit. It’s been good.”
MACK'S SCORING AGAIN
Grad transfer Tevin Mack was brought in to help replace Marcquise Reed’s offense. Mack scored double-digit points in Clemson’s first seven games. Then he did it only once in the next six contests. However, in the last three, he’s scored 14, 17 and 22 points.
“He’s just found other ways to get a basket besides shooting 3s,” Brownell said. “We’ve talked about that and he’s got to find some other ways to be more than a 3 point shooter and get shots off.”
Guards Curran Scott and Hunter Tyson have become much more reliable off the bench in recent weeks.
Scott, a Tulsa transfer, had 14 points against N.C. State and dished out five key assists in the win over Duke.
Tyson has been more selective with his shots and has scored 15 points in 31 minutes the last three games.
“I think him and Hunter Tyson have been playing very well off the bench and that’s really helped our team,” Brownell said. “Those guys come in and make a shot or score a basket or two really gives our guys confidence. It helps our coaching staff because we can sub more and move more guys in and out, do different things and they play those guys late.”