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The Daily Tar Heel

Tigers focus on defensive skill

After winning 22 games last season in coach Brad Brownell’s first year, Clemson has found an identity it hopes to extend this season.

The Tigers led the ACC last season in scoring defense, allowing just 61.4 points per game. With three returning starters and a crop of defensive-minded freshmen, Clemson looks to post similar numbers in this year’s campaign.

“Last year we held guys to something like 61 points, so hell, why not try to beat that,” senior guard Andre Young said.

Clemson is predicted to finish seventh in the ACC in its 100th season of basketball.

But after losing their two leading scorers, the Tigers will need to be a force defensively to make its fifth straight NCAA tournament.

Young, who posted 11.1 points per game in 2010-11, is the only returner who averaged double figures last season.

“We were in games last year because of how we played defensively,” senior Tanner Smith said. “We’re not one of those teams in this league with a bunch of firepower.”

Young and Smith make up what will be an experienced backcourt.

Smith averaged just 7.8 points a game last year but is one of the team’s top defenders, while Young shot 39.6 percent from three-point range and is seventh all-time in Clemson history in three-pointers.

“Andre is playing at a high level,” Brownell said. “He handles the ball better, he shoots the ball incredibly well … Andre truly loves (the game), that’s how a guy who’s five-foot-nine has been a very good player at this level.”

Bryan Narcisse, Milton Jennings and Devin Booker compose a frontcourt that lacks experience but has plenty of talent.

Jennings arrived at Clemson as one of the program’s highest-rated recruits of all time. After struggling his freshman season, he showed flashes of All-ACC caliber potential last year.

In total, Clemson returns just six players and will lean heavily on a six-man freshman class.

“Going into an ACC arena and all those things … my team this year is going to be wide-eyed,” Brownell said.

But the freshmen face an additional task — playing in a system that prioritizes defense.

“It’s a lot to throw at them, but they have a good attitude about it,” Young said. “I think that is some of my responsibility to really pull those guys in, being on the court and being able to help those guys and get them in the right spots.”

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