CHARLESTON, S.C. — Clemson forward K.J. McDaniels isn't worried about what outsiders believe the Tigers won't accomplish, not with as much fun as he's having this season.
The Tigers improved to 5-0 and continued their best start in five years with a dominating, 85-54 win over Davidson on Friday night to reach the finals of the Charleston Classic.
McDaniels had a career-high 22 points, the third time this season he's surpassed his previous best.
"I'm just keeping the right mentality, that's the important part," said McDaniels, a 6-foot-5 junior. "I want to be ready for every game."
So far, that's worked just fine for the Tigers who haven't won this many at the start of a season since going 16-0 in 2008-09. That year started at the Charleston Classic, too, the Tigers winning three games here to claim the inaugural title.
To win a second championship, they'll have to get by 5-0 Massachusetts, who ran past No. 19 New Mexico 81-65 earlier Friday to advance. Clemson coach Brad Brownell knows the Tigers will need the same focus against the Minutemen as they showed against Davidson.
"I thought our players were locked into it," he said. "That was the difference in our defensive play. It really slowed them down and made them make tough shots."
The team five years ago was led by a dominating forward in Trevor Booker. This group has McDaniels, who had a near-perfect shooting night to break his career best in points for a third time this season.
Demarcus Harrison added a career-high 20 points for the Tigers. Rod Hall, a former Laney standout, had 10 points and three assists.
Clemson came into the season after going 13-18, its first losing season in nine years. It also lost two of its top players in Devin Booker (Trevor's brother) and Milton Jennings and few expected much from this year's team, which was picked in the preseason to finish 14th out of 15 teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Have the Tigers taken some steps to change that opinion?
"I feel like we're focused on one thing right now, just being a better team," McDaniels said. "We don't pay too much attention" to others' views.
Chris Czerapowicz led Davidson (1-4) with 14 points. Davidson takes on No. 19 New Mexico on Sunday in the third-place game.
"Clearly, some of our guys are not ready for this schedule," Wildcats coach Bob McKillop said. "That was evident tonight."
McDaniels had 19 points in a perfect first half, hitting all seven of his shots and all three of his free throws. McDaniels missed his first attempt of the second half and spent most of the period on the bench as Clemson gradually increased the lead.
The Tigers filled up TD Arena with area fans on Thursday night for their 72-58 win over Temple. But as Clemson coach Brad Brownell feared, far fewer turned out Friday night – the Tigers finish their home football season Saturday and campus is about a four-hour drive from Charleston – which gave Davidson a boisterous cheering section.
Davidson's built its basketball reputation in recent years by knocking off giants. Can any college basketball fan forget the Wildcats amazing run to the NCAA Tournament's final eight when they came a basket away from upsetting eventual champ Kansas?
Stephen Curry and his Davidson teammates defeated tournament powers Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before scaring the Jayhawks.
The big-boy wins have been harder to come by in recent years for the Wildcats, although they have been close.
The Southern Conference champs fell to Louisville 69-62 in the NCAA's opening round in 2012, then were stung 59-58 by Marquette's late rally in last season's Big Dance.
Davidson has fallen to a pair of ranked opponents already this fall, losing to No. 4 Duke 111-77 on Nov. 8 and to No. 25 Virginia 70-57 in its last game before heading to Charleston.
The Wildcats got back on track at the tournament, ending their 0-3 start to the season with a 94-82 victory over Georgia of the Southeastern Conference. But they struggled to keep up with Clemson for most of the first half.
Davidson led 13-11 on Tom Droney's basket before the Tigers answered with a 13-2 run to go up 24-15. When the Wildcats sliced that to 33-28 on two straight baskets by De'Mon Brooks, Clemson scored the next 8 points to take its largest lead of the half at 41-28.
Tyler Kalinoski had Davidson's only two baskets of the final 5:51 and Clemson was up 43-33 at the break.
The Tigers kept on the pressure in the second half and steadily pulled away, leading by as many as 36 points.
Davidson's Brooks, picked as the preseason SoCon player of the year, came out in the second half with what looked like a leg injury and was on crutches after the game. McKillop did know the extent of Brooks' injury or when he might play again.