On The Road: Clemson spending all season away from home

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Clemson coach Brad Brownell made it clear early in practice his team would not get a pass from opponents or excited fans simply because it will play all its games off campus.

Top-to-bottom renovations at Littlejohn Coliseum that won’t be complete until next season mean the Tigers will relocate to Greenville, South Carolina, about 30 miles northeast of campus. The arena has done its part to make the Tigers feel at home this winter with a special entrance and Clemson signage.

Brownell understands, though, his players won’t feel at home this fall.

“I told the guys early on that we’re not making any excuses for what we have to deal with this year,” the sixth-year coach said. “It’s challenge or opportunity, you can view it either way you want.”

There’s no doubt how Brownell sees it. He thinks the things that sunk his Tigers last season – Clemson was 14-9 in midseason and thinking postseason, but lost seven of their final nine games – have been corrected. He pointed to a pivotal home game in early February with ranked Notre Dame where Clemson held a 56-52 lead with four minutes left before losing 60-58.

Brownell said it was hard for his players, particularly senior point guard Rod Hall, to completely shake the defeat and get back to solid basketball.

“We had a little bit of hard rallying back and didn’t play as well as we wanted, at times,” he said.

Brownell’s challenge is to keep the Tigers energy high despite the regular road trips. The team held an intra-squad scrimmage this month at the Greenville building, which once hosted an NCAA tournament regional in 2002, to get used to the atmosphere.

“It was a little chilly,” Brownell joked. The building also hosts an ECHL hockey team.

Things to watch with Clemson this season:

BLOSSOMGAME’S GAME: Clemson junior Jaron Blossomgame is a 6-foot-7 leaper considered one of Brownell’s best recruits when he came to school three years ago. However, significant injuries have slowed his consistency and progress. Brownell believes that’s over and Blossomgame will show off similar skills that made Clemson forward K.J. McDaniels into an early entry NBA draft pick two years ago. Blossomgame led the Tigers with 13.1 points and 8.2 rebounds last season.

BACK COURT ISSUES: Clemson was led by Rod Hall at point guard thee past three seasons. The Tigers have several players looking to take his place. Jordan Roper, more of a shooter than passer, handled some of the backup duties last year and could see more time this season. The Tigers also add Avry Holmes, a transfer from San Francisco who sat out last season. Holmes was an West Coast Conference all-freshman pick in 2013 and started 35 of 62 games with the Dons.

A LEGEND AWAITS: Clemson got a boost this offseason from Legend Robertin, a 7-foot junior college transfer who gives the Tigers three centers 6-foot-10 or taller in starter Landry Nnoko and reserve Sidy Djitte. Robertin says he’s prepared to do what he’s asked of Clemson. If he does it well enough, that could make him a true Tiger Legend.

MORE TRANSFERS: Even more help for the Tigers is coming in 2016-17. The Tigers brought in transfers Marcquise Reed from Robert Morris and Shelton Mitchell from Vanderbilt this offseason. Both must sit out this year per NCAA rules but will practice with the Tigers. Reed was the Northeast Conference rookie of the year after leading Robert Morris with 15.1 points a game. Mitchell started 10 games his only season with the Commodores.

BORN TO RUN? Clemson coach Brad Brownell said his roster is versatile enough to push the pace more than it had in past seasons. The Tigers have been a defense-first, slow-it-down group most of Brownell’s time because it was the best way for them to compete. Brownell said his backcourt of Avry Holmes and Jordan Roper are more dynamic and will look to keep the game moving.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.