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Field Level Media - Professional sports content solutions | FLM

Mar 19, 2024 3:01 pm

No. 11 New Mexico seeks fast pace vs. No. 6 Clemson

PJ Hall

If styles make fights, as the old saying goes, one might want to watch Friday’s game in Memphis, Tenn. at the NCAA Tournament.

When 11th-seeded New Mexico challenges sixth-seeded Clemson in a first round West Region contest, it will put one of the nation’s fastest-playing teams against one of its slower-paced ones.

One team that rarely turns the ball over against one that lives off forcing turnovers. One squad that delights in keeping opponents out of the lane against one that usually scores its points in the paint.
“This is what you want to be in,” said Tigers coach Brad Brownell. “You want to be involved in these kinds of games and opportunities.”

Clemson (21-11) built its NCAA resume off a 9-0 start that included five wins over tournament teams, including the likes of Alabama, South Carolina and TCU. The Tigers also bagged a rare win at North Carolina but only went 11-9 in a relatively mediocre Atlantic Coast Conference and were routed in the first round of the ACC tourney by Boston College.

Clemson’s offense is built around 6-10 center PJ Hall, a first team All-ACC pick, as well as guards Joseph Girard III and Chase Hunter. Hall scores 18.8 points per game and grabs 6.7 rebounds while providing excellent rim protection, blocking 1.6 shots per game.

“We are not just looking to get there,” Hall said of making the tournament. “We want to continue to make a run and further our season.”

Girard, a Syracuse transfer, lived up to his billing and provided 42.5 percent 3-point shooting while averaging 15.7 ppg. Hunter contributed 12.3 ppg and 6-8 forward Ian Schieffelin was named the ACC’s Most Improved Player after chipping in 9.6 ppg and 9.5 rebounds.

As for New Mexico (26-9), it more than earned its NCAA bid by winning four games in four days to capture the Mountain West tournament. That included a 68-61 win in the championship game over San Diego State on Saturday.

And it turned out that was the Lobos’ only ticket to the tourney. NCAA Tournament selection committee chair Charles McClelland said on Sunday night that New Mexico would have fallen short if it hadn’t won on Saturday.

Lobos coach Richard Pitino was less concerned about that and more frazzled about the fact that his dad, Rick Pitino, and his St. John’s team landed on the wrong side of the bubble in a decision that surprised many experts.

“I was kind of rooting for two teams there,” Richard Pitino said.

He only has to root for his team the rest of March (and perhaps early April). Many feel New Mexico has second-weekend potential, led by a potent backcourt of Jaelen House (16.1 ppg), Jamal Mashburn, Jr. (14.4 ppg) and Donovan Dent (14.3 ppg, 5.6 assists).

They fuel an offense that ranks 18th in Division I at 82.6 ppg while playing the eighth-fastest tempo in the country. And the Lobos force 19.5 turnovers per 100 possessions, per kenpom.com.

House is the son of former Arizona State star and long-time NBA player Kevin House, who never played in March Madness.

“He’s been to the NIT. We both did that. But now I’m going to the (NCAA) Tournament,” Jaelen House said. “He’s got an NBA championship, though, so I can’t really do too much. I can’t really do too much.”

The winner advances to a second round matchup Sunday against the winner of the Colgate-Baylor contest.

–Field Level Media

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