Following wins against Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech, Clemson basketball looks to keep up momentum at Florida State
Elijah Thomas walked off of the court and into the players tunnel at Littlejohn Coliseum on Wednesday night, his own internal pep talk reeling through his mind.
“ ‘Play mad. Play angry,’ ” the sophomore forward told himself ahead of Clemson’s matchup with Georgia Tech. “ ‘Play like you’re an animal. Play like yourself.’ ”
Forty minutes of game time later, he walked back through that tunnel and this time into the press conference room with a career-first under his belt: a double-double featuring 12-points and a career-high 10 rebounds.
“It worked for me,” he said.
Thomas and the Tigers as a whole — playing more aggressively in their last two games — have used a change in mentality and an increase in tenacity to pull themselves out of a six-game losing skid and pick up a pair of ACC wins. To close out January, Clemson beat Pittsburgh on the road, 67-60. To open February, the Tigers avenged a 12-point loss to Georgia Tech earlier in the season.
Come Sunday, the Tigers will turn their attention toward Florida State on the road and the Seminoles’ high-octane offense, which averages 83.3 points per game. Should the Tigers leave Tallahassee, Fla., with a victory over Leonard Hamilton’s squad, it would be their best win of the season and one that would enhance their resume when NCAA Tournament seeding rolls around in the coming weeks.
“It’s the ACC — that’s why I came here. Every time you play, you’re going to play against somebody that’s very good,” Thomas said following the Georgia Tech game. “That’s what I like about the ACC. Every time I step on the court, I’m going to play a top talent. I have to embrace it. If you don’t embrace it, you’re going to get out there and get exposed.”
The Seminoles are led by a pair of underclassmen in sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon and freshman forward Jonathan Isaac, who average 17.1 and 13.3 points per game respectively. Redshirt senior forward Jaron Blossomgame and graduate guard Avry Holmes lead the charge for the Tigers, with 18.4 and 11.1. After scoring just a single point against Pittsburgh, Holmes came alive against the Yellow Jackets with 18.
“You know, I think certain games fit different guys on our team,” Brownell said after. “This was a game where Avry really got into a rhythm, got a couple good looks, knocked them down, shot the ball really well. I thought played with pretty good poise.”
Should the Tigers (13-8, 3-6 ACC) upset the Seminoles (19-4, 7-3) it will take that same poise all around — from Holmes, Blossomgame, Thomas and the whole crew — in a conference that is even better this season than Brownell thought it would be.
Florida State is coming off of a 18-point blowout win over Miami and has marquee conference wins against Louisville, Duke, Virginia and Notre Dame.
“Hopefully we’re moving to a good place, but it’s like I’ve told people, the way this league is, there’s going to be a lot of teams in this league who have a bad couple of weeks. It’s almost impossible for some team not to go two weeks and not to have a bad two weeks, it’s just the nature of the quality of the opponents,” Brownell said of Clemson’s early 2016 struggles. “There’s just a lot of good coaches, talented players on everybody’s roster and if you’re not really ready to play and don’t play well, you’re not going to win.”