CLEMSON - Just enough. That's what Clemson was able to do against Mississippi State Tuesday night.
Vernon Hamilton hit one-of-two free throws with :04.2 seconds left to put Clemson up by three points, then - along with his teammates - withstood Jamont Gordon's desperation 3-point attempt that grazed the front rim as time expired for a 69-66 Tigers' victory.
The game was played before and announced crowd of 6,357 at Littlejohn Coliseum.
The victory, sluggish as it may have been, improved Clemson to 6-0 on the season. The Bulldogs fell to 2-2.
"I was very pleased with our win tonight, but not particularly how we got it," Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said afterwards. "We made enough free thorws to win and our pressure defense was good. There will be nights we don't play well this year, so it's a sign that we have a pretty good team when we can go out there and not play our best but still get the win."
Clemson, who struggled from the 3-point line in the first half with a dismal 1-for-10 performance, hit 3-of-6 in the second half. And all three proved to be important:
- The first came from K.C. Rivers, who dialed one up from the wing with 14:20 remaining to pull the Tigers even at 45-45;
- The second, a deep corner shot by Hamilton, expanded Clemson's lead to 62-57 with 5:22 to go;
- Finally, with the Bulldogs back within 62-61, Cliff Hammonds nailed one from the top of the key to put the Tigers back up by four with 3:40 to go.
That basket proved to be the last field goal Clemson would get down the stretch.
Hamilton hit 1-of-2 free throws with :40 remaining to extend the Tigers' lead to 66-62. Gordon immediately answered with a driving layup for MSU to pull his team back within two at :30.4.
K.C. Rivers then knocked down a pair of free throws with :18.1 remaining, only to see Charles Rhodes answer with an inside basket to pull the Bulldogs within 68-66 with :09.6 to go.
Hamilton was then fouled by Reginald Delk, setting up the final sequence.
"We hit some big shots, no question about it," Purnell said.
The Tigers led by as many as eight points at one juncture in the first half, but couldn't deliver the next big blow to the Bulldogs.
In fact, after leading 22-14, the Tigers allowed MSU to go on a 14-6 run to tie the game at 28-28 - the final basket of the stretch a 3-pointer by Ben Hansbrough with 3:33 remaining in the half.
A layup by Sam Perry stopped the bleeding momentarily, and actually spurred a quick 7-2 run that put Clemson back on top 35-30 with :32 remaining.
But James Mays fouled State's Jamont Jordan on a 3-point attempt with :02 to go, and Jordan hit all three free throws to pull the Bulldogs within 35-33 at the half.
"I saw a lot of impatience tonight, as far as taking long jump shots we didn't need to take, or quick jump shots that weren't well thought out," said Purnell. "There were a lot of ill-advised shots tonight and we were just basically stopping ourselves."
Hammonds led Clemson with 20 points, while Mays added 17 and Rivers 11.
Rhodes finished with 20 for Mississippi State.
- Clemson had one of its better shooting nights from the free throw line, finishing 17-of-23 (73.9 percent);
- The Tigers outrebounded MSU 35-33, including 12-9 on the offensive end;
- MSU committed 16 turnovers to Clemson's 13. Clemson won the points in the paint battle, 40-32.