A buzzer-beater gave Lamont Paris his first win over Clemson last season. Surrounded by a sold-out crowd in Columbia, Paris picked up one of his best victories of the season in the battle for the state.
Now, Paris will take South Carolina (7-0) to Clemson to try and stay undefeated.
The USC men’s basketball team embarks on a two-game road trip, kicking things off with Clemson on Wednesday. The Tigers were already one of, if not the toughest, opponent on USC’s schedule.
Clemson (7-0) earned the No. 24 ranking in the latest Associated Press Top 25 released Monday afternoon. With both teams undefeated, it’s the first time since the 2016-17 season that one team is nationally ranked.
USC is hoping a win over the Tigers could lead to a Top 25 ranking of their own.
“We know that we’ve got to get past them to get on board,” Gamecocks guard Meechie Johnson said. “I think this is that game for us.”
A real road trip
Paris’ nonconference scheduling put the Gamecocks through three neutral-site games, and now Clemson is South Carolina’s first true road contest.
The 7-0 Tigers. The Tigers seeking revenge. The Tigers, and their fans, who won’t hold back against the Gamecocks.
“You want to have validation of what you’re doing,” Paris said. “And I think the best way to do that is to play a really good team.”
Paris said he’s confident that USC can hold its own despite the rowdy environment at Littlejohn Coliseum. He previously described the championship game at the Arizona Tip Off against Grand Canyon as a road game. The tournament was a short drive away for GCU fans, and the atmosphere they created should’ve given USC a taste of what to expect Wednesday night.
Johnson is convinced he’ll thrive in Clemson’s hostile environment. He’s scored at least 20 points in three of his last four games, including a career-high 29 points against Notre Dame last Tuesday.
Paris has found success on the road throughout his coaching career, despite going 4-8 away from home last season. Those four wins were still some of the top victories South Carolina had last season, and Paris said the Gamecocks are prepared for this week’s road swing.
“Honestly, I am going to do coach speak here,” Paris said. “You know, we try to just prepare ourselves the way we do for any other game. I’m sure (Clemson coach) Brad (Brownell) does the same, but I don’t know. Maybe he tells those guys, they should hate our guts.”
Against DePaul on Nov. 17, South Carolina had 17 turnovers. The Gamecocks have 17 total turnovers since then.
Paris attributed South Carolina’s lack of turnovers by playing simple basketball. USC hasn’t had many fancy, drawn-up plays. The Gamecocks haven’t forced the ball when they didn’t need to. They’ve made quick, but smart, decisions in transition.
“I don’t know what the secret is,” Paris said. “We’ve got unselfish guys, and I think a lot of times turnovers come from trying to do too much.”
The South Carolina-Clemson guard matchup should emphasize USC’s need to keep its scheme simple. The Tigers have 31 steals this season, and PJ Hall leads Clemson with eight takeaways.
But Paris believes as USC has gelled together, the game has “slowed down” for them. The starting five Gamecocks have played long enough that they’ve learned how to readjust to pass the ball or take a shot themselves.
It’s just confidence. And South Carolina can’t go into Littlejohn Coliseum with anything but confidence.
“I think guys are comfortable in their own skin,” Paris said. “I think the guys are comfortable with passing the ball to someone else, knowing that the energy of the ball will eventually return to them, and they’ll get some looks.”
Staying hot beyond the arc
Still high off 18 3-pointers from Friday’s win over George Washington, USC’s Stephen Clark practiced shooting half-court shots at the end of practice Monday afternoon. He eventually tried a full-court shot before calling it a day.
Johnson said he’s made a few half-court shots in practice before, but breaking a school record for 3-pointers in USC’s last outing certainly helps morale.
Both USC and Clemson are shooting from the arc a lot this season. The two programs sit at roughly 40% and have six players each shooting over 36% on the season.
That’s a lot of treys.
“I feel like we’ve got a lot of versatility to us,” Johnson said. “But shooting is one of our greatest aspects as a team, and we’re gonna let it fly.”
For as deep as USC’s scoring has been, it hasn’t faced an offense with these numbers yet.
USC has to lock down Clemson’s top two shooters, Joseph Girard and Hall. Both players are shooting over 40% from 3-point range and averaging a combined 36 points per game. Clemson’s Hunter Chase isn’t far off those numbers, either, and those three absorb nearly 30 minutes of game time each.
There’s a reason the Tigers — averaging 82 points per game — are USC’s toughest nonconference opponent. But Johnson thinks the Gamecocks have the edge, even walking into Littlejohn.
“I’m so excited, not only just for the environment, but they’re ranked 24th in the country,” Johnson said. “You’re going down there with a lot you can take away from them, so it’s an exciting game.”
Men’s basketball how to watch
Who: South Carolina at No. 24 Clemson
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, South Carolina
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
TV: ACC Network
South Carolina’s next four games
Dec. 9 at East Carolina, noon (ESPNU)
Dec. 16 vs. Charleston Southern, 6 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)
Dec. 19 vs. Winthrop, 7 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)
Dec. 22 vs. Elon, 6 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)