No. 22 Clemson uses fast start to defeat NC Central 71-51
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By PETE IACOBELLI
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson coach Brad Brownell has long considered David Skara one of the Tigers' top defenders. Skara is showing he can score, too.
Skara had 16 points and No. 22 Clemson opened a large early lead in cruising to a 71-51 victory over North Carolina Central on Friday night.
It was Skara's second consecutive game in double figures after doing it just once in 26 contests last season.
"Last year I struggled a bit offensively," said Skara, who averaged only 3.3 points per game a year ago. "This year I feel a lot more comfortable. The shots are coming. My teammates are finding me and that helps to get my confidence up."
Brownell said Skara, a 6-foot-8 transfer who played his first two seasons at Valparaiso, simply wanted to blend in with last season's talented team and not step on any toes.
"David's such a good guy that the last thing he wants to do is upset the apple cart," Brownell said.
This time around, Skara has been more assertive in looking for his shot. He's made nine of 14 field goal attempts and four 3-pointers in two games.
"He felt (last year) he was a much better player," Brownell said.
That was apparent against the Eagles (0-1). Skara made two of Clemson's eight straight baskets to start the game as the Tigers (2-0) opened a 23-11 advantage about eight minutes in and quickly took control of this matchup between 2018 NCAA Tournament teams.
While the Tigers reached the Sweet 16, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament champion North Carolina Central lost to Texas Southern in a First Four matchup.
NCCU coach LeVelle Moton said his team made too many mental mistakes early and was moving too slow to hang with a Top 25 opponent. The Eagles fell to 0-10 against ranked teams.
"I'm disappointed in my guys because we have guys that have played in this atmosphere," he said. But "they haven't proven that they can play in the big lights."
Not that it mattered much.
Skara's jumper with 11:24 left in the first half put the Tigers up 23-11 and they were never seriously challenged the rest of the way. Clemson built the lead to 28 in the second half.
North Carolina Central, which has made three NCAA Tournament appearances over the past five years, hurt itself with 11 first-half turnovers and a pair of scoring droughts that lasted more than four minutes. The Eagles trailed 40-20 at halftime.
Raasean Davis, the Eagles' leading scorer at 15 points per game last season, was held to four on 2-of-5 shooting in the opening period.
He finished with 14 points, and Zaccary Douglas had 12.
THE BIG PICTURE
NCCU: The Eagles will do a lot of flying the next couple of weeks with trips to Cincinnati, Bowling Green and George Mason. North Carolina Central hopes the rough opening schedule will make it ready when Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play starts.
Clemson: The Tigers came out fast and did what they needed to take control of the game. Then they mostly settled for outside shots and stingy defense to keep in front. Clemson will have to be more on target with its shooting when it goes up against Power Five competition later this month.
Brownell has built the program on defense and challenged his team to do a stronger job in this one than in its opening, 100-80 victory over The Citadel on Tuesday. "Our guys just did a really good job," he said.
Clemson opened 2-0 for the 17th time in 18 years. The only time in that stretch it didn't was a 1-1 start during the 2014-15 season.
North Carolina Central travels to Cincinnati on Tuesday night.
Clemson finishes a three-game homestand against Sam Houston State on Wednesday night.
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Updated November 9, 2018