UCF forward Keith Clanton has scored in single digits in three consecutive games for the first time since his freshman year. (Stephen M. Dowell, Orlando Sentinel / December 20, 2012)
The C-USA preseason player of the year was on an absolute tear this season, and entered the Rice game last Wednesday averaging 17.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. He had scored 36 and 19 points in his previous outings against East Carolina and Houston, respectively.
Since those games, however, Clanton has not looked the same.
Rice used its smaller lineup to double and triple team Clanton, swarming and trapping him. He finished with just three points, all from the free throw line, going 0 for 3 from the field. It was the first time since Feb. 2, 2010, his freshman year, that Clanton had not scored from the field.
Despite the offensive struggles, Clanton continues to contribute elsewhere.
His rebounding production is largely still there, he had 10 rebounds against Tulane and Rice, but just three against SMU. And Clanton has also registered 11 assists in the last three outings, including five in the win over Rice and four against SMU, showing that the senior is finding open teammates when opposing teams collapse on him.
But Clanton has not been able to score consistently as he had in the season’s first 17 games. Just once in that span did Clanton score in single digits: a blowout win over Howard on Dec. 28.
Glancing through some of the country’s top forwards, it was difficult to find a player who has had a similar stretch, though there were a few instances where players with comparable numbers to Clanton had two consecutive games that dipped well below their scoring averages.
Clanton, who is now averaging 16.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, has not gone three straight games without scoring in double digits since March of his freshman season.
UCF coach Donnie Jones said last weekend he wanted to see Clanton stay aggressive and really work to get better looks at the rim. He encouraged him to shoot from outside if he found himself with space on the rotation.
Against the Green Wave, Clanton went 2 of 9 from the field, equaling his total number of shot attempts from the previous two outings, which is at least a positive that he was heeding Jones’ advice. But Clanton still appeared to lack some energy early and was blocked three times in the game.
To his credit, Clanton has appeared nothing but excited about the team's success. And while his offensive numbers have dipped, they have been eased by the production of teammates, namely Isaiah Sykes, who has scored at least 20 points in four consecutive outings and is averaging 15.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
After Wednesday night’s win at Tulane, Jones talked about whether he is concerned with Clanton’s production.
“I think you just got to keep playing through it,” Jones said. “Keith played hard, he had 10 rebounds, eight points. He had some good looks that didn’t go down. He had nine shots, so he’s got to continue to grind it. He’s got a lot of potential every night. … Scoring will come, and as long as we’re winning that’s all that matters to Keith Clanton. I know he wants to play better, but even great players go through tough spurts. And Keith is going to keep working hard for us.”
Clanton will look to get back into rhythm on Saturday at Marshall, a game that will air locally on Bright House Sports Network at 2 p.m.