No. 11 South Carolina dominates with defense


No. 11 South Carolina dominates with defense

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) South Carolina's stout defense keeps beating up Clemson's high-powered offense, and it has tipped the scales of the bitter rivalry in favor of the No. 11 Gamecocks.

The No. 15 Tigers ran 23 fewer plays, gained 207 fewer yards and scored 28 fewer points than they averaged all year in Saturday's 27-17 loss to South Carolina.

The Gamecocks have done similar things to the Tigers to earn only their second four-game winning streak of the 116-year-old rivalry. Clemson has scored 17 points or less just 11 times in the past four seasons, and four of those have been against the Gamecocks. The Tigers have averaged 414 yards a game since 2009, but gained an average of 248 yards against their in-state rivals.

The reason has been simple, said South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. The Gamecocks play a more physical style in the tougher Southeastern Conference, and Clemson comes in unprepared after facing eight Atlantic Coast Conference defenses, said Ward, who has coached at least a part of the defense for the four-year winning streak.

Just look at sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney pushed hard to get the local high school star to play for the Tigers, but he came to South Carolina instead. After his 4 1/2-sack performance Saturday, he has 5 1/2 sacks in two games and promised Gamecocks fans they would never lose to their rivals again as long as he is on the field.

At just about the same time, Swinney was upstairs apologizing to fans and his seniors.

``It's the ACC versus the SEC. Everybody knows where the most physical ball comes out of - the SEC. We came out trying to be really physical, push them around and show them who was tougher,'' Clowney said.

Clowney's sacks made him the leader in the nation with 21 1/2 tackles for loss this season. He's also the leader of a defense that ranks 13th in the country and simply shut down the nation's eighth-ranked offense.

Clemson's offensive line didn't allow a sack in two previous games against Maryland and North Carolina State, who each came in as the ACC leader in sacks. The Gamecocks got to Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd six times Saturday.

``We got down and they just pinned their ears back and rushed the quarterback, so it was tough. Our offense is built a lot on being able to get into a rhythm and we were not able to do that,'' said Clemson center Dalton Freeman, who will leave school without ever beating the Gamecocks.

Boyd has taken the brunt of the defensive pressure. Since replacing Kyle Parker in the third quarter of Clemson's 29-7 loss in 2010, he has completed 32 of 71 passes for 339 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He has been sacked 14 times and has rushed 36 times for a total of minus-15 yards.

It was a regression for Boyd, who set school records this season with 34 touchdown passes and a total of 43 TDs running and passing.

``We were in a situation where we didn't have much time and tried to force things. We pressed too much,'' Boyd said.

With his starting quarterback and running back out injured, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was glad to turn to his defense, as he has often during his eight years with the Gamecocks.

``I'm really, really proud of our defense,'' Spurrier said. ``That's one of the best offenses in the country, and we held them down fairly well to 17 points.''

Perhaps the best way to put the shift in the rivalry into perspective is to talk to DeVonte Holloman. The South Carolina senior has picked off passes against Clemson in 2009, 2010 and 2012 and is part of the first senior class to leave the Gamecocks without losing to the Tigers.

``History doesn't really have anything to do with anybody that's here now,'' Holloman said. ``We're trying to start our own history, so whatever happened before we got here, we threw that out the window.''

Quick Links

Ty Lawson is playing a bigger role than anyone could have predicted for Wizards vs. Raptors

Ty Lawson is playing a bigger role than anyone could have predicted for Wizards vs. Raptors

The biggest surprise of the Wizards-Raptors series through two games, at least from Washington's perspective, has to be the fact Ty Lawson has very quickly earned a prominent role in Scott Brooks' playoff rotation.

Lawson, 30, was signed the day after the regular season and after he played much of 2017-18 in China with the Shandong Golden Stars. He did not appear in one game with the Wizards or any other NBA team during the regular season, yet he was the first point guard off the bench in Game 2.

When John Wall picked up two quick fouls, it was Lawson who got the nod, not Tomas Satoransky. Lawson ended up playing 31 minutes, more than Satoransky and fellow backup point guard Tim Frazier have earned combined through two games.

Though the Wizards had three point guards on their bench behind Wall before Lawson even signed, he has apparently surpassed them all on the depth chart. Satoransky is the most surprising, given he played quite well during the regular season.

Satoransky averaged 7.2 points, 3.9 assists and shot a team-best 46.5 percent from three. He had the highest offensive rating (124) on the team.

Lawson, though, played quite well in Game 2. He put up 14 points, eight assists and three rebounds while shooting 4-for-5 from three.

Lawson outscored four of the Wizards' five starters. Not bad for his first game.

"He did everything I knew he was capable of doing," Brooks said. "I’ve seen him do it for many, many years. He’s tough, he’s a competitor. He competes and pushes the pace. He plays defense. I liked the spirit."

Lawson provided a noticeable spark. He is still quick and aggressive with the ball, not afraid to look for his own shot, and played physical defense against the Raptors. Lawson ended the night plus-8 in the box score in a game the Wizards lost by 11.

"It’s good to see him get into a game and be able to produce for us," guard Bradley Beal said.

Given the Wizards lost Game 2 and face an 0-2 deficit in their series, it is likely that Brooks continues to alter his rotation in the coming games. He could go back to Satoransky more often, knowing he had some solid games against Toronto in the regular season, including on March 2 when he had 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

Satoransky could see more time at shooting guard or small forward and could play alongside Lawson. That might be Satoransky's best bet because Lawson did nothing in Game 2 to squander the opportunity.

For a team whose effort has been questioned by their head coach, Lawson's energy and urgency was noteworthy. He brought the edge of a guy playing for his NBA career, knowing a good playoff series could earn him a contract next season. 

Clearly, the way Lawson played was refreshing for Brooks given how long he kept him out on the floor. He may have come out of nowhere, but it looks like Lawson is here to stay.




NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Can Tom Wilson be an X-factor for Caps after finding redemption in Game 3?

Can Tom Wilson be an X-factor for Caps after finding redemption in Game 3?

When Mike Babcock essentially dismissed any concern over the impact Tom Wilson could have on a series, Wilson responded. In the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2017, the Caps' forward scored the overtime winner in Game 1 and saved the series in Game 3 with a sweep of the puck off the goal line followed by a goal of his own soon after.

If you dismissed Wilson after Game 1 and Game 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Barry Trotz believes you can expect a similar answer this year after how he played in Game 3.

"I think his game was really good and that will maybe give some trust and confidence in him going forward," Trotz said Wednesday on a conference call with the media.

Wilson's impact in the first round against Toronto was immediate. As a top-line winger this season, expectations for him were high heading into the playoffs. His start to the series, however, left a lot to be desired.

Through the first two games, Wilson did not record a single shot on goal. What's worse, he took a critical penalty in each game that allowed the Blue Jackets to tie the score on each resulting power play.

You can't compare Wilson's impact on the Caps to that of a player like Alex Ovechkin, but a top-line player has to have some sort of positive impact or, at the very least, not be a detriment to his team.

In Game 3, postseason Tom finally delivered.

Wilson recorded six shots on goal and scored Washington's first goal of the game, deflecting in a shot from Matt Niskanen.

"[Wilson's] taken a lot of criticism for his first two games and some of the penalties and the effect it's had on the game," Trotz said. "I think it's given him some confidence. He's a bright young man, he's a leader, he's an all-in guy."

The key now will be for Wilson to build on that confidence.

Columbus has a number of star players such as Artemi Panarin, Seth Jones and Sergei Bobrovsky. What they do not have, however, is the scoring depth to match the Caps. Getting key contributions from players like Wilson in addition to the top playmakers like Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov will make it very hard for the Blue Jackets to keep up.

"[Wilson] had a big effect last year in the first round," Trotz said. "I think he can have a big effect in this series, in this first round."