Clemson faces its stiffest challenge of the young season on Friday, as the Tigers square off with No. 25 Iowa in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Fla.
The Tigers (4-1) come in fresh off a 72-41 romp of Loyola-Maryland, giving Brad Brownell’s team three straight wins. The head coach has been mostly pleased with how the Tigers have started the season, but he’s still looking for a complete game.
“We’ve won the last three,” Brownell said. “I think we’ve played some good basketball at times, but we haven’t put together for 40 minutes yet.
“I’m proud of the way our guys have bounced back. Won a couple of good games here at home just to, you know, get better, which we needed to do. Needed game experience for some guys. … We’re a new team still finding our way.”
Through the first five games, the Tigers have been paced by Chase Hunter. The junior guard averages a team-high 16.2 points and has been red-hot from the perimeter, shooting 68.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Clemson is still waiting on veteran big man PJ Hall to round into form, though, as the junior forward is still battling back from an offseason knee injury. Hall has shown flashes of his old self at times and comes in averaging 10.5 points per game.
“I just think it’s really hard,” Brownell said of Hall. “Because our last visuals of him are playing unbelievably at the end of the season and his expectations are really high. And I think it’s hard on him emotionally. I think he wants to play so well. There’s times he’s rushing himself a little bit. He just hasn’t had as many reps, right, and it’s normal.”
The Hawkeyes (4-0) score in bunches. Fran McCaffery’s team is averaging 96 points per contest and shooting 39.8 percent from 3-point range. Its average margin of victory has been 31 points.
Despite the hot start, which includes an 83-67 win over Seton Hall, McCaffery’s message has been simple. Take it one game at a time.
“That’s the only way you can survive the long season, especially with the schedule that’s before us,” McCaffery said. “Everything’s going pretty smooth so far. We know that it’s not always going to be like that. How do you handle adversity? I think a lot of guys have confidence in themselves, so you have confidence in your teammates.”
Junior Kris Murray had his coming out party in the win over Seton Hall, scoring a game-high 29 points. He followed that up with a career-high 30-point performance in a 100-64 win over Omaha on Monday. At one point, he made 11 consecutive shots.
“It was easy buckets, I feel like,” Murray said. “I had shots around the rim, just had to finish them. So I’ve never had a run like that, and it was kind of cool just to be in that moment.”
With the Hawkeyes playing so well, it’s allowed McCaffery to get some of his younger players more minutes, something he thinks will be beneficial with games coming up on back-to-back days down in Florida.
“I think the important thing over these first four games was that a lot of guys get minutes, because we are going to play back-to-back games and we are going to need bodies,” McCaffery said. “For the most part, everybody has played well. We have locked into the game plan and executed the game plan and that’s critical.”