The immense value of Clemson junior point guard Demontez Stitt (6 feet 2, 175 pounds) to his team has become blatantly evident over the past two weeks. No, Stitt is not an all-conference caliber player, but he makes the Tigers -- specifically on offense -- multidimensional. He is the team's primary ballhandler. He is the team's best penetrator. He is the one who makes the team's transition offense flow smoothly.
When Stitt is not in the lineup, Clemson is left essentially with one dependable option -- throw the ball in to senior forward Trevor Booker (6-7, 240 pounds) and hope for the best. As the Tigers have learned over the past three games, limited offensive options make winning ballgames significantly more difficult.
When Clemson hosts Maryland on Sunday, the Tigers will be looking to end a three-game losing streak. Clemson's recent skid has come while Stitt is dealing with a sprained left foot. He sat out the Tigers' loss Tuesday at Boston College and played through considerable discomfort during losses at Georgia Tech and against Duke. Stitt averages 11.2 points per game and is shooting 44.9 percent. He also owns a 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Stitt's foot is "better today than it was yesterday, and certainly better than what it was coming out of the Duke game, but right now, you know, he's not ready to go," seventh-year Clemson Coach Oliver Purnell said Thursday in a telephone interview. "Obviously, we're hoping it gets to the point where he's ready to go by Sunday. The real problem, of course, is practice time. He hasn't been able to practice since the N.C. State game. But we'll see what happens. If he's ready to go, he'll play, and if he's not, then we've got a week off after the Maryland game, and he certainly should be ready after that."
Sophomore guard Andre Young (5-9, 170 pounds) started in Stitt's place against Boston College. Young, whom Purnell called "probably the best outside threat that we have on our team," is shooting 40 percent from the field and 38.4 percent from the three-point line. He is averaging eight points and 2.1 rebounds per game.
Young does not drive to the basket as effectively as does Stitt, which enables opposing defenses to guard him more closely on the perimeter and limit open three-point looks.
"Andre has been playing an awful lot for us anyway," Purnell said. "He's been playing above 20 minutes a game for us anyway. He plays on the ball, and Demontez moves over. That's been a very productive lineup for us, not to mention when Demontez is out, he's in there. He's a solid player ... very good in our full-court pressure defense and gaining more experience all the time. That was a great learning experience the other night against Boston College where he had to go 39 minutes. So if Demontez is not ready, I'm certain Andre will be ready to go."
Against Boston College, Young finished with seven points, five assists and four turnovers. He shot 2 of 11 from the field and 1 of 7 from three-point range.
Sophomore guard Tanner Smith (6-5, 220 pounds) plays off the ball, but is not the offensive threat most would expect a shooting guard to be. He is averaging 10.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 44.9 percent.
Neither Smith nor senior small forward David Potter (6-6, 215 pounds) are particularly adept three-point shooters. Smith is shooting 29.8 percent from beyond the arc, while Potter is shooting 37 percent from three-point range. Potter averages 6.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.
When Stitt plays, he can drive to the basket and create more open looks for Young, Smith and Potter. He also can score on his own, which takes some of the pressure of that trio to produce points.
With Stitt out, Clemson has to rely more heavily on its high-pressure defense. The Tigers rank No. 1 in steals (10.3 per game) among ACC teams. Young has tallied 35 steals, while Potter has 30, Smith has 26 and Booker has 34. The Tigers typically use their stingy perimeter defense to create transition scoring opportunities. Clemson owns a plus-3.5 turnover margin.
"A lot of it has to do with our scheme," Purnell said. "We're a team that likes to play a lot of pressure defense, and if you're playing it well it's going to produce some steals. A team that plays more of a sagging man-to-man scheme is not going to steal the ball as much as a team that's in full-court pressure, so that's a part of it. Obviously, we try to recruit to that scheme, and if we didn't have those kinds of players, we'd probably play defense a little bit differently."
The Tigers are an up-tempo squad that prefers to run up and down the floor and move the ball quickly from one player to the next. That style often translates into a high-possession game, primarily because it also often translates into abundant turnovers. Clemson averages 14.7 turnovers per game and owns a 1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"Well, I think any time that you're pushing the ball and you're playing up-tempo you're going to have more turnovers by virtue of the fact that you're running faster," Purnell said. "When your players are moving and that sort of thing, that's a decision you have to make when you decide you're going to be a running team; you're going to have more turnovers. So there have been times this year where we've felt like we've had too many, but that's something that you learn to live with when you make that decision to play pressure offense and pressure defense."
The Tigers do shoot well from the field (47.3 percent), and Booker plays a large role in that regard. Booker is averaging 16 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 55.6 percent. He also has tallied 28 blocks. Purnell said Booker has improved his ballhandling and perimeter shooting this season. Still, the Tigers need Booker to produce in the post on more than one level.
"He's a senior, he's a guy that our players look to for direction, not just verbally but emotionally and physically," Purnell said of Booker, one of the more excitable players in the ACC. "When Trevor turns it up, you have a tendency for your young guys to really see that and turn it up as well."
Some of the "young guys" to whom Purnell was referring: freshmen forwards Devin Booker (6-8, 235 pounds) and Milton Jennings (6-9, 225 pounds) and freshman guard Noel Johnson (6-6, 190 pounds).
Booker is averaging 4.9 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 62.0 percent. Jennings, who was the first McDonald's all-American ever recruited to play at Clemson, is averaging 3.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40.5 percent. Johnson is averaging 5.3 points and 2.0 rebounds per game while shooting 38.2 percent.
Teaming up with Trevor Booker in Clemson's starting front court is junior forward Jerai Grant (6-8, 220 pounds). Grant is averaging 6.2 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 65.8 percent. He also has tallied 33 blocks.
"He understands that he has to defend in the post and he has to do a good job of boxing out the opposing center or big guy," Purnell said of Grant. "He understands that Trevor will get a lot of attention and if he's all over the offensive glass it can really help us."
The Tigers own a plus-2.4 rebounding margin, which ranks 10th among ACC squads. Maryland is 11th with a plus-2.0 rebounding margin.
Overall, Clemson is shooting 33.9 percent from three-point range and 64.5 percent from the free throw line.
January 29, 2010; 8:50 AM ET
Categories: Men's basketball
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