GAME NOTES: A pair of squads near the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings will attempt to continue their stellar campaigns on Tuesday night, as the 20th-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers welcome the Clemson Tigers to the Petersen Events Center.
Starting with its outstanding Jan. 11 victory over nationally-ranked Duke (72-59), Clemson has reeled off three straight wins to improve to 13-4 overall and 4-1 in the ACC. The Tigers dismissed Wake Forest at home on Saturday afternoon, 61-53, and now they head back on the road where they've split four games.
Pittsburgh had been winners of six in a row prior to its Saturday-afternoon showdown at nationally-ranked and undefeated Syracuse, where it fought hard only to lose, 59-54. Despite the setback against one of the nation's best, the Panthers are still in the midst of an outstanding 16-2 season (4-1 ACC) and have yet to lose at home in 11 tries.
In the only previous meeting between the programs, Pittsburgh bested Clemson way back in December of 1958, 60-50.
The Tigers pulled away from Wake Forest late in their most recent contest to capture the eight-point victory, shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 18- of-21 from the free-throw line while committing just nine turnovers, all while playing their patented stellar defense, holding Wake Forest to just 36.2 percent shooting. K.J. McDaniels set the tone with 15 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, while Jordan Roper was also impressive with 11 points.
Clemson's offensive production has been lackluster this season, as it shoots just 43.2 percent from the field for 66.0 ppg, but that output has been more than enough to support its outstanding play on the other end of the floor, where it ranks second in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.362) and first in scoring defense (53.5 ppg). McDaniels is a well-rounded forward, posting 16.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.8 bpg and 1.2 spg, while draining 21-of-60 from 3-point range. Rod Hall (10.0 ppg) is the only other player to net in double figures and has 63 assists paired with only 21 turnovers.
The Panthers were in great position for an upset victory over the weekend, finding themselves up by three with under three minutes to play, but Syracuse responded with six straight points to take over the contest. They had little answer for the Orange's strong defense, as they shot just 38.3 percent from the floor, and to make matters worse they lost several opportunities at the foul line, shooting just 13-of-23. Lamar Patterson netted 18 points but on just 6-of-15 from the floor, while Talib Zanna tallied a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Despite having its hands full with one of the nation's best teams, Pitt has established itself this season as a very well-rounded club, outshooting its opponents from the field, 48.1 percent to 40.1 percent, while boasting impressive margins in terms of scoring (+15.9), rebounding (+9.4) and turnovers (+2.2). Fitting in perfectly to the multi-talented team is Patterson, who pitches in all over the floor with 17.6 ppg (on 51.2 percent shooting), 4.7 rpg, 4.5 apg and 1.4 spg. Zanna (12.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg) is a nightly double-double threat, while Cameron Wright (10.7 ppg) is a great perimeter defender, swiping two steals per contest.
Points will likely come at a premium in this matchup between two elite defensive squads, but Pittsburgh possess a few more offensive weapons than does Clemson, and the Panthers' flawless home record should be able to remain intact in this one.
Game Date and Time