Massachusetts' Raphiael Putney dunks the ball over New Mexico's Alex Kirk in the second half at the Charleston Classic NCAA college basketball tournament in Charleston, S.C., Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. Massachusetts defeated New Mexico 81-65. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
CHARLESTON, S.C. — The University of Massachusetts is one win away from bringing some hardware back to Mullins Center for the first time since 2009, but standing in its way is a Clemson squad that has started the season with a five-game winning streak of its own.
The Tigers defeated Davidson 85-54 in Friday’s second semifinal of the Charleston Classic, and coach Brad Brownell’s squad has proven itself to be a tough puzzle to solve on the defensive end for opposing teams, which have averaged just 51.4 points against the Tigers.
“Our M.O. is that we’re going to force you into turnovers and playing out of sorts, and we’re going to have to get Clemson to play the same way,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “The games when we play teams that kind of slow it down a little bit, when we’re able to speed them up a little bit, they’re not accustomed to practicing or playing that way.
“Just like if we get into a definite half-court kind of grudge match, we’re not usually as good. We’re a little better than we’ve been in the past, but that’s not our kind of cup of tea.”
Pace has always been a hallmark of Kellogg’s UMass teams, and despite a lower offensive output than the previous two wins, Kellogg said he was extremely happy with how fast the Minutemen played in Friday’s 81-65 win over New Mexico.
“It seemed like the pace was as good as we’ve had all year,” Kellogg said. “If the 7-footer (Alex Kirk) hits the 3, then we’re coming right back down for a quick two or getting a quick shot off, I think that wears those guys down.”
Clemson is led on both ends by K.J. McDaniels, who averages 19.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and an eye-popping 4.0 blocks per game for the Tigers.
“McDaniels is really kind of dominating the game,” Kellogg said.
The Tigers also feature guard Rod Hall, who comes in averaging 13.5 points with a 19-to-4 assist-to-turnover ratio.
For Kellogg, aside from the obvious NCAA tournament resume implications, a win in Sunday’s final would give UMass confidence that it can, in fact, capture a trophy.
“We don’t have a trophy in our trophy cabinet with this team yet,” Kellogg said. “There’s not a trophy in the Mullins Center and these guys I think would really like to bring home a trophy for the fans and UMass.”
MISCELLANEOUS — Chaz Williams is among the 50 players on the Naismith Award watch list. ... Maxie Esho scored six points in the second half of the win over New Mexico, but even more importantly has been an integral part of UMass’ pressure defense. “He’s our best press guy, and that’s what he does,” Kellogg said. ... UMass’ offensive performance thus far has been impressive, but it has also been historic — the Minutemen have scored 80-plus points in five consecutive games to start the season for the first time in school history.