Shocking Clemson on top with best ACC start

Shocking Clemson on top with best ACC start

COLUMBIA, SC — Clemson coach Brad Brownell made a historic start in the ACC at exactly the right time.

The Tigers (14-3) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 6-0 record, the only undefeated team in the league. And it follows an underperforming 2021-22 season when athletic director Graham Neff notified the program that participating in the NCAA Tournament was a top directive.

Message received: The Tigers are at their best ACC mark since joining the league in 1953.

“Our kids have improved and their focus has been fantastic,” Brownell said. “There’s a belief in what we’re doing and we’re reaping that.”

Clemson faces its first ranked ACC team this season against No. 24 Duke.

Picked 11th in the ACC in the preseason, fifth-year forward Hunter Tyson has averaged a double-double with 16.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-8 graduate student has posted double-doubles in Clemson’s last five contests, including road victories at Virginia Tech and Pitt.

Clemson went under last season (17-16 and out of the postseason) when Tyson broke his clavicle in February and missed eight games.

Now Tyson is healthy and confident in what he can accomplish.

“I do whatever it takes to help my team win,” Tyson said. “If that’s me really hitting the glass hard and getting a lot of rebounds, that’s what I’ll do. That’s been happening a lot lately.”

Brownell is in his 13th season, only Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton and Virginia’s Tony Bennett have spent longer in the ACC, with just three NCAA appearances, most recently in 2021.

He readily acknowledges that many think his Tigers should have earned more than they have over the years. However, Brownell had four double-digit winning seasons in ACC play after just three in Clemson’s first 57 league seasons.

Brownell is also the only Clemson coach with a win at North Carolina, breaking the Tigers’ embarrassing 0-59 mark at Chapel Hill in January 2020.

So Brownell won’t get ahead of the Tigers’ hot start. “We’re not going to go too high or too low at this point,” he said.

The February schedule includes games against No. 16 Miami and No. 13 Virginia. And there’s a return to North Carolina, the long-awaited ACC champion that has had an up-and-down season thus far.

Clemson point guard Chase Hunter won’t concede any disappointment the way his team is playing right now.

“We definitely had big goals, big dreams for the season,” he said.

Brownell has taken advantage of the portal in the past to bolster his roster, but this year’s team has only one transfer in the rotation in former College of Charleston and Boston College guard Brevin Galloway. The rest of the starters are experienced players who stayed with the Tigers and developed their talents, such as Tyson, Hunter and forward PJ Hall.

Hall, a 6-10 junior, underwent surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot. While recovering in July, Hall suffered a partially dislocated kneecap that also required surgery.

However, Hall has played in all but one of the games, averaging 12.4 points and leading the team with 16 blocks.

Brownell said there were many days in the offseason where Hall wondered if it was worth it. But Hall worked “because he wants to be with our team,” the coach said. “That’s why we have a good team, because of the character of our team.”

Win or lose to Duke, the season doesn’t stop, Brownell said. But he believes the team’s shared experience over the years can sustain them even through the grind of the ACC season.

“Our guys have been here,” he said. “We are a strange group. We are happy to see the children improve and experience success.”

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