Energized Tigers Put Clamps on East Carolina
CLEMSON - With two losses in Hawaii in his rear view mirror and the ACC opener at Duke looming this weekend, Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell didn't agree that Wednesday's game with East Carolina was a "must" win.
But it was awfully close.
Playing with a renewed sense of energy and purpose on its home floor, Purnell's Tigers put the clamps on the Pirates at Littlejohn Coliseum Wednesday, routing the visitors 74-40. East Carolina shot just 21 percent (12-of-57) from the field and committed 18 turnovers against Clemson's relentless defense.
"I was both interested and concerned about how we would react coming off the Hawaii trip," Purnell said. "The major thing we talked about before the game was locking a team down...shutting a team down. Giving up 19 points in the first half and 21 points in the second half...defensively we did a nice job.
"It's a prototype win for us. We have to defend well and have balanced scoring from the inside game and outside game. We're pretty tough to beat when we get that."
Except for a lull on the offensive boards, Clemson's inside game dominated the Pirates (4-7).
Senior center Sharrod Ford (14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks) established the Tigers' presence in the paint. He got help inside from Akin Akingbala (10 points) and Olu Babalola (8 points) on the offensive end.
Defensively, Clemson (9-3) held ECU to just 16 points in the paint. Center Moussa Badiane and forwards Corey Rouse and Jonathan Hart combined to shoot just 2-of-20 on the night. Badiane himself was 0-for-10.
"We definitely had a mindset of shutting these guys down," Purnell said. "It wasn't anything fancy. It was a lot of man-to-man in the first half. We finally got to some trapping, which gave us a working margin. In the second half it was pretty much the same thing."
ECU head coach Bill Herrion had something of a different viewpoint.
"Clemson came out early and their message was,'We're going to physically annihilate you,'" he said. "They won the game right from the opening tip. We didn't have a chance, physically."
The Tigers led 34-19 at the break, then turned on the jets in the second half.
Leading 48-29 with 13:41 left, Clemson's pressure defense keyed a 26-11 run the rest of the way. The highlight of the stretch was Vernon Hamilton - on the run after a turnover - bouncing a pass off the backboard to a trailing Babalola.
Babalola's catch and subsequent slam dunk brought the announced crowd of 5,300 to its feet and forced an ECU time out.
Hamilton's play (six points, seven assists, just two turnovers) drew praise from Purnell, as did the play of fellow guard Shawan Robinson. Robinson, who had been in a prolonged shooting slump, finished 5-of-8 from the field - including 4-of-6 from the 3-point line - to score 14 points.
"I was impressed with the way he (Robinson) let the game come to him tonight," Purnell said. "He didn't force anything. (And) Vernon played a very good floor game tonight. He was one of the reasons we were successful on both ends of the floor."
One other Tiger, freshman Cheyenne Moore, finished in double figures (10 points).
ECU's Mike Cook topped all scorers with a game-high 18.
Clemson's next game is the conference opener, 8 p.m. Sunday at Duke.