Tigers set for NIT semis

Landry Nnoko

CLEMSON - Even Landry Nnoko, the transplant from the capital of Cameroon, is familiar with just how big the stage can be in Madison Square Garden.

WHAT: Clemson vs. SMU
WHERE: New York, N.Y., Madison Square Garden
WHEN: Tuesday, April 1 (7 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson +3
TV: ESPN (John Saunders, Fran Frachilla, Bob Knight)

After all, it is ‘The World's Most Famous Arena.'

"I've watched a lot of games that are played there, so it looks like a really fun place to be," Nnoko said. "For me to have the chance to play there, I feel really blessed."

Nnoko and his Clemson teammates will take on SMU on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in the first semifinal of the NIT. The winner plays the winner of Minnesota and Florida State.

Tuesday's game marks the Tigers' fourth trip to Madison Square Garden, all of which have been for the NIT. It's also their first appearance there since 2007, when Clemson lost 78-73 in the championship game to West Virginia.

K.J. McDaniels was a 14-year-old that night.

"We're looking forward to it," McDaniels said of this trip. "I know a few people on the coaching staff haven't even gone, so we're all looking forward to it."

They'll play an SMU team that's led by Hall of Fame head coach Larry Brown, who's led the Mustangs to 26 wins this season, including NIT victories over UC-Irvine, LSU and California.

"They're so smooth and so fast, fast-moving plays," McDaniels said. "I can definitely see the difference in their team, so that's great for them, but we're one of the top defensive teams. We're going to go out there and play as hard as we can.

"Larry Brown, he's a defensive-minded coach as well, so I'm looking forward to it."

Brad Brownell has positioned Clemson in the NIT semis after scoring wins over Georgia State, Illinois and Belmont. Unlike the previous three opponents, SMU barely missed out on an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"They are a very good passing team, very skilled team," he said. "As you would expect with coach Brown's teams, they share the ball, they pass it. Nic Moore and Nick Russell, their two primary ball handlers and guards are just very good with the ball. They're great decision makers. Because you have two guys like that, it helps, like Pittsburgh.

"Then, Markus Kennedy, one of their post players, is a great passer, a very skilled big man, handles double-teams well, pick-and-roll, he catches it, you're rotating and he finds guys on the weak-side. The ball just moves. That's one of the reasons why they're so good offensively, they just pass it well.

"Certainly, their defensive numbers are very good. They're hard to score against, low field goal percentages, active, aggressive team, so it's what you would expect with a Larry Brown team, unselfish, share it and very sound defensively."

That sounds familiar to the model that Brownell has implemented during his four seasons at Clemson.

PROBABLE STARTERS
SMU, 26-9 (12-6 OVC)
G #11 Nic Moore - 13.5 PPG, 4.9 APG (5-9, 170)
G #3 Sterling Brown - 4.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG (6-6 200)
G #12 Nick Russell - 9.8 PPG, 3.3 APG (6-4, 210)
F #2 Shawn Williams - 4.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG (6-7, 230)
F#1 Markus Kennedy - 12.24 PPG, 7.0 RPG (6-9, 245)

Clemson, 23-12 (10-8 ACC)
G #12 Rod Hall - 9.4 PPG, 3.9 APG (6-1, 210)
G #20 Jordan Roper - 7.4 PPG, 1.7 RPG (5-11, 165)
G #21 Damarcus Harrison - 7.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG (5-11, 165)
F #32 K.J. McDaniels - 17.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG (6-6, 200)
C #35 Landry Nnoko - 6.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG (6-10, 250)

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