Saturday, March 15, 1997
Clemson pulls a surprise
to stop Davis

The Cincinnati Enquirer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Devin Davis was frustrated by flattery. He recoiled at respect. Clemson paid the Miami forward college basketball's ultimate compliment Friday afternoon, and it caused him claustrophobia.

Davis had hoped for some solitude at the start of his last NCAA Tournament - a little room to maneuver, some space to explore - and Clemson surrounded and suffocated him. Thirty-one games into their season, the Tigers unveiled a new trapping defense designed specifically to stop Miami's dreaded dreadlocks and thereby beat the Redskins, 68-56.

Devin Davis may never know higher praise or lower spirits on a basketball floor. He closed his college career at Kemper Arena, not so much stopped as he was stifled. The second-leading scorer in Miami history scored 13 points, grabbed eight rebounds and behaved as if he had been made to play his game in a broom closet.

''I didn't expect to get trapped,'' he said. ''Not against an ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) team. I was ready to play my game, one-on-one, but they were there always. There really wasn't much I could do ... I think that would frustrate any person.''

Davis had hoped to ''dominate'' his senior year, but he spent most of the season dealing with double-teams. He expected that kind of treatment in the modest-sized Mid-American Conference, but he figured an ACC opponent would confront him straight-up. Clemson had not used a designated trapper all season - not against Kentucky nor Duke nor North Carolina nor Wake Forest - but Tigers coach Rick Barnes sprung one Friday to devastating effect.

''We knew we needed to do a job on Devin Davis,'' Barnes said. ''(He) is as good an offensive player as we've played all year long. We did as good a job on him today as on any great player we faced all year.''

Barnes' brainstorm was to assign 6-4 forward Greg Buckner to defend Miami point guard Rob Mestas. Then, when Miami was able to move the ball inside, Buckner abandoned Mestas to assist on Davis. The Tigers dared Mestas to make them pay from the perimeter, and he responded with one field goal in five tries.

''They ain't doubled all year and now they double (Davis),'' Miami coach Charlie Coles said. ''I think that's big time. That shows you what his stature is.''

Coles questioned himself for not reacting more quickly to Barnes' ploy, but his strategic alternatives were few. When Miami cannot depend on Davis in the lane, it must rely on long-range jump shots.

''Devin Davis is a very talented basketball player,'' said Clemson guard Merl Code. ''We thought if we could take (him) away, we'd take away their heart.''

Davis would not make his first field goal until 5:14 remained in the first half, and if this was not disheartening enough, he had already committed two fouls, made two turnovers and missed four shots by that point.

He complained later that the officials treated him as if he were Shaquille O'Neal - ignoring some flagrant fouls, including rebound-restricting jersey-grabs - but there wasn't much outrage in his voice. Star scorers accept some of the dirty tricks of the trade as the price of their prominence. Besides, the referees had barely more influence on this game than did the cheerleaders.

Clemson's lead was 15 points when Davis finally made his first field goal. Though Miami would narrow the gap to six points in the closing minutes, the Redskins provided precious little in the way of suspense.

Given the two teams' comparative size and the relative strength of their conferences, the outcome was about what you would have expected. The main surprise was Clemson's methodology, and even this might have been anticipated.

Devin Davis might have wished for more one-on-one opportunities, but he is a man who merits special attention.

''I think,'' he said, ''that they did the smart thing.''