FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has pushed the pace to its liking this season. The Razorbacks have been much better at making shots as well and both factors have made a noticeable difference on the scoreboard.
Arkansas has topped the 75-point mark in each game and is coming off a 111-point effort against Southeastern Louisiana. The Razorbacks have scored in the post, from the perimeter, in transition and off turnovers. The versatility has led them to top the Southeastern Conference and rank 12th in the NCAA in scoring (88.6 points).
So it’s understandable that guard Ky Madden and the rest of the Razorbacks remain confident they’ll do it once again today, when Arkansas (5-2) plays Clemson (7-1) in Bud Walton Arena at 1 p.m. It doesn’t matter that the Tigers have been the NCAA’s best defensive team so far this season, allowing just 51 points a game.
“Just do what we’ve been doing,” Madden said Thursday when asked about the challenge. “Pushing the ball, making the fast. If we do what we do and get our tempo, then we’re going to have a pretty good game and a pretty high-scoring game.”
Madden and the Razorbacks will get their chance to prove it against the Tigers, who will become just the second Atlantic Coast Conference program to play in Bud Walton Arena. Wake Forest was the first in 2001-2002, beating the Razorbacks 76-71 in former coach Nolan Richardson’s final season with the program.
Clemson arrives with a team that has been successful at slowing the pace, protecting the basketball and playing strong half-court defense. The Tigers are second in the NCAA in opponent field goal percentage (34.1), third in 3-point field goal defense (21.2 percent) and sixth in blocked shots (8 a game).
The Tigers have held seven of their eight opponents below 60 points this season and is 7-0 in those. Massachusetts, the only team to beat Clemson so far, scored 62.
“They really do a good job of packing it in there and making your shoot difficult shots,” Anderson said. “Whether they’re in a man defense or a zone, they make you take difficult shots. And they want it to be a possession game.
“So how do you keep the score down? You slow down the number of possessions. That’s how you do it. That’s what they do. But they’re capable of scoring as well.”
Clemson is led by junior K.J. McDaniels, who is averaging 17.1 points a game. The 6-foot-6 guard reminds Anderson of Arkansas guard Michael Qualls because of his athleticism and ability to make an impact on both ends of the floor.
McDaniels has topped the 20-point mark in five games this season, including a career-high 22 in a win against Coastal Carolina. He’s also averaging a team-high 3 blocks a game, The Birmingham, Ala., native played high school basketball with Arkansas forward Jacorey Williams. Anderson also has known him for years.
“He’s going to be a big challenge because he’s an energy guy,” Anderson said. “He scores a lot of different ways. He’s going to get two or three dunks just hanging around the basket or running the floor. He’s putting the ball on the floor as well.”
Anderson said McDaniels, Clemson’s experienced backcourt, or the Tigers’ defense won’t change Arkansas’ objective today.
“Harassment,” Anderson said. “Don’t let them get comfortable in what they want to do. We’ve got to rebound the basketball, because they’re a very good rebounding team. We’ve got to attack the glass, and we’ve got to get to their bench.”
Madden also said Arkansas’ defense will be key to breaking through Clemson’s difficult defense.
“Just giving them pressure,” Madden said. “That starts turnovers and tough shots. Shots they don’t normally make. We get those rebounds and we push them.”
Arkansas has won 18 straight in Bud Walton Arena entering today’s game, which is the first between the programs since the Razorbacks beat Clemson 62-60 during the 1961-62 season. The Razorbacks also have won 38 straight home games against unranked nonconference opponents dating back to 2009.
Both of those streaks are on the line against Clemson, which has been successful in suffocating opponents so far this season. But Anderson said his team carries plenty of confidence into its next test after a solid showing in Maui and Tuesday’s easy win.
“The last game against Southeastern Louisiana was probably one of our better games from start to finish,” Anderson said. “Playing as many guys as we did and to sustain the continuity, that was important. It just shows me that our guys are attentive and they’re trying to do the things we ask them to do. So this will give us an another opportunity to go out and play against a very good basketball team.”