Tim Floyd knew exactly what he was doing when coming all the way across the country to sign Noel Johnson.
Fortunately for Oliver Purnell and Clemson basketball, Johnson landed in Clemson after things started heading south around the Southern California hoops program.
Johnson led Clemson’s 99-51 win over Francis Marion win, one that very much like the 23 victories by the 2008-09 Tigers. After a quick 22-3 run about six minutes into the game, Clemson shot 14-27 from behind the 3-point line, forced 34 turnovers.
In his first game ever in Littlejohn, Johnson scored a team-high 19 points, shot 70 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point line.
Purnell said the freshman helped provide an early spark on the offensive end of the floor.
“Offensively, he is a lot further along than he is defensively,” Purnell said. “That’s to be expected. That’s why he’s a tremendous prospect, because of what you saw.”
In the week leading up to Friday’s game, Johnson received words of encouragement through conversations with friends and old coaches.”
“They told me to just play like I’ve been playing all my life. That definitely was a confidence booster,” he said.
In order to keep his minutes up, Johnson understands he’ll have to continue working hard on the defensive end.
“That’s what Coach Purnell stressed the first day I stepped on campus: I’ve got to play defense,” he said. “That’s what I’m here to do. If that gets me minutes, then I’m out there playing defense 24/7.”
Much of Purnell’s focus in the early part of this season is on the defensive end of the floor. He’s more concerned about the mindset on that end, despite looking sloppy at times on the offensive end against Francis Marion.
Up 57-26 at halftime, Purnell warned the team of a little big of a let down in the second half.
“We fought ourselves a little bit,” he said. “There’s a natural tendency to let up a little bit, but we came back in spurts. I believe that was good to see.”
Coming off a closed scrimmage against Georgia last week, Purnell believed the effort on defense was better against Francis Marion.
“There’s a lot of stuff we have in (on offense) that we didn’t run because we’re not that good at it yet,” he said.
Clemson finished with 21 turnovers, something Tanner Smith would like to see cleaned up as the season opener against Presbyterian approaches.
“One of the main things is just execution on offense. I think guys are still unsure of what we wanted offensively,” he said. “We know what we want out of our offense, and that’s to go inside and out.”
With the Francis Marion defense sagging into the lane through much of the night, points in the paint were almost at a premium. The inside-outside game did allow for outside jump shots, including some 3-pointers. Smith finished with 16 points, hitting three of his five 3-point shots.
“When we go inside-out, we can make jump shots. Once we get it in, (Trevor) Booker is such a great post player--they-re going to have to respect him,” Smith said. “That gives us guards open shots that we can make.”
Booker tied with David Potter and Milton Jennings to play the most minutes tonight (22). Booker and Jennings each scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds. In all the preseason scrimmages, Jennings said he’s been tied for or leading the team in rebounds.
Coming into Clemson, he heard from a lot of people that rebounding was his weakness.
“I’m leading a team that’s got tremendous rebounders. Jerai (Grant), Trevor and Potter, we’re all gang rebounding,” Jennings said. “To lead or be tied for the lead is a good accomplishment on this team.”
Purnell said Devin Booker has been battling a hot spot in his foot. The younger Booker has been limited in practice lately to keep the injury from becoming a stress fracture. He played just four minutes, scoring on his only field-goal attempt.
Donte Hill had a chance to push the score to 100, but missed the back end of his two foul shots.