“Defensively I think we’ve been playing pretty well lately,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said during his Monday conference call with reporters. Considering the Tigers’ recent results, that appears to be a massive understatement.
In its past four games, Clemson (16-7, 5-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) has allowed 50, 44, 49 and 56 points. The lone loss in that stretch came in the 49-point game at Virginia, when the Tigers could muster only 47 points themselves.
Boston College's opponent Tuesday night (9 p.m., ESPNU and ESPN3.com) leads the ACC in scoring defense, allowing only 59.6 points per game. And, according to kenpom.com, Clemson is 18th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 89.5 points per 100 possessions.
With one of their biggest offensive weapons suffering a power outage of late, the Eagles (15-8, 5-4 ACC) may have a hard time generating enough offense to win at the Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C., where the Eagles are 0-4 all time.
But don’t tell Brownell that.
“[Our defense will] certainly be put to the test against Boston College,” the coach said. “Very impressed with the way they play on film.
“They’ve got like 110 more assists than turnovers, so I think you’re dealing with a team that not only shoots the ball well but really takes care of the ball, values the ball and passes it well. So they have a very good understanding of how to play both individually and in Steve [Donahue’s] system.”
But ever since Donahue switched up his starting lineup against Duke, relegating leading scorer Reggie Jackson and sniper Danny Rubin to the bench (and elevating Dallas Elmore and Corey Raji to the first five), that system has seemed to short-circuit at times. Especially when it comes to Jackson.
The third-year swingman had been averaging a shade more than 18 points a game, second best in the conference (behind Duke’s Nolan Smith), was ranked in the top 10 in the ACC in seven offensive categories and was routinely the team’s best offensive option. But Jackson managed just 7 points off the bench in the loss at Duke, scored just 6 points in a return to the starting lineup in the loss at home to North Carolina, and had 10 points (all in the second half) in a win over Virginia Tech.
Is that performance a symptom of the switch, or was the switch another symptom of a larger, underlying problem?
“I think people read a little too much into what coaches do -- well, at least what I do -- with the starting lineups,” Donahue said Monday. “If you look, Reggie’s minutes haven’t changed one bit. I think what I’m trying to do is just have all the guys understand how I value practice and how important it is. And Reggie did not practice particularly well in the meantime, and a couple of guys really did.”
Rewarding players for performance in practice (and, by extension, punishing players for lack of performance in practice) is clearly a tenet of Donahue’s philosophy. Hard work won’t go unnoticed, and neither will the counterpoint.
“I was disappointed in Reggie’s practice for a couple of days, but in reality I’ve been very pleased with everything he’s given since I’ve gotten here,” Donahue said. “I think I need to just continually push him and motivate him to get better because 1) I think he has unbelievable potential and 2) it makes our team that much better.
“And Reggie has responded very well,” the coach continued. “I thought he had a great second half against Virginia Tech. I thought [it was] his best defensive game by far. He did a lot of little things in that game that really helped us win that basketball game.”
To win at Clemson on Tuesday night, Donahue & Co. will need more than the little things from Jackson.