Sunday Fun Day

Dan Radakovich

CLEMSON - Raise your hand if you thought Clemson would pack Littlejohn Coliseum to the brim for Sunday morning's 11 a.m. NIT game against Illinois.

While there was a nice contingent of Illinois fans sprinkled around the 10,000-seat arena, it was a standing room only event that just so happened to be televised on ESPN.

Clemson athletics director Dan Radakovich climbed to the top row of the press section nose bleed seats with an extra pep in his step before the Tigers' win over the Illini. He was getting ready to take in a sold-out basketball game at Clemson that didn't include Duke or North Carolina.

At that point, there were a few empty purple seats in the final rows of the top sections. Once the game got rolling, the PA announcer filling in for Dale Gilbert asked fans to squeeze to the middle of their respective rows. By the time he made the request a second time, there weren't any seats left. It was a standing room only at a Clemson basketball game with no Tar Heels and no Coach K.

At the football school, on a Sunday morning right in the heart of the Bible Belt, a second-round NIT game was a sellout.

The 10,000 or so Clemson fans in attendance loved every minute of the 50-49 grinder that offered every bit of what makes the 2013-14 Tigers what they area: hard-nosed defense, blocked shots and a few rim rattling dunks from K.J. McDaniels.

Brad Brownell had a pretty good idea when he arrived for work this morning that it could be fun once the ball was tipped an hour before noon.

"We appreciate those folks getting up early, going to church early and spending the day with us," he said. I told our players before the game when I got here at 9:30, there was already a line at the gates and I had goose bumps on my neck because I was proud to see that kind of support for our program."

Brownell & Co. lived up their end of the bargain by winning their 22nd game of the season.

"I told our players I thought it was a great way for the fans to thank us for what we've been doing down the stretch," Brownell said. I think they appreciate how hard our team has played and how much we've improved. In return we thought the best way to thank them was to play hard today."

With one more game in Littlejohn Coliseum before the NIT semifinals and finals at Madison Square Garden, Clemson is taking on a Belmont team from Nashville that is missing the NCAA Tournament for the first-time since 2009. It was only a one-year hiatus. The Bruins were in the dance each year from 2006-08.

According to Brownell, Belmont has established its reputation on the national stage. Terms like "mid-major" need not apply to Rick Byrd, who's been at Belmont for 28 years.

"Mid-major is just a name. The way the NCAA Tournament is with so many teams, the talent level isn't much different. There might be one or two guys are physically much bigger, but usually the skill level is with the mid-major team," Brownell said. "Belmont will be more skilled than we are, so we'll have to figure out ways to use our skill and use our athleticism to our advantage."

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