CLEMSON --- It wasn’t a pretty game, and it wasn’t even a pretty win. But nonetheless it was a win for the Clemson Tigers.
Clemson did just enough Wednesday night in its home-opener to earn itself a 67-58 victory over Furman at Littlejohn Coliseum. The Tigers got 13 points from Vernon Hamilton and 11 points and 10 rebounds from James Mays to improve to 4-0 on the young season.
“Believe it on not I actually thought it was a good win for our team,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “I thought we thought we were tired.
“That’s what I talked to our team about upstairs. It is a state of mind.”
But as Purnell said, the Tigers were not in that state of mind. Clemson did just enough in each half to keep the upstart Paladins off, but not enough to dominate the game. The Tigers appeared tired and less than enthusiastic to be playing after winning three games in back-to-back-to-back days to open the season last week in the Cox Communication Classic in Norfolk, Va.
“We have to be mentally tough. That’s a good way to look at,” Hamilton said. “There are going to be possessions and games, but it is a long stretch and you can’t allow yourself to believe that you’re tired or you are going to play tired.
“We have to push through them. Like Coach says, ‘We have subs coming and just play as long as you can.’”
That sub Wednesday night was guard K.C. Rivers, who came off the bench to give the Tigers 25 quality minutes. The sophomore scored 10 points, while grabbing six rebounds and dishing out four assists.
At one point in the second half, his energy got the Tigers going in during a 13-4 run which allowed the Tigers to gain control of the game with a 54-36 lead with 9:59 to play.
“Sometimes you need somebody to come off the bench and give the team a spark or an energy boost,” Rivers said. “It gives you a second wind or boost of energy where you say ‘Okay let’s go.
“Sometimes that’s what I feel like my job is to do. I have to come in and give us that energy that is going to put us there for just a few minutes or second to make us have a run.”
Forward Julius Powell also gave Clemson that boost it needed. His two 3-pointers from the right and left wings came during the Tigers’ lone second half run.
“Those are the kind of momentum baskets that can give you some distance in a close game or put you back in one,” Purnell said.
Furman (2-1) never fully went away, even when Clemson built its 18-point lead in the second half. Behind Georgia Brozos and Moussa Diagne’s 11 points, the Paladins stayed close enough to make the Tigers work for every shot.
“I think we got better as the game went along,” Furman coach Jeff Jackson said. “I’m proud of our guys, but I’m not satisfied with the loss.
“We need to be a team that plays better the whole game.”
In the end Jackson said it was Clemson’s relentless pressure defense which did his team in. The Tigers forced 19 turnovers and held Furman to 37.3 percent shooting from the floor, including a 5 for 23 effort in the first half.
“Their pressure defense, especially their inside defense was tough for us,” Jackson said. “They played hard defense and made it tough for us to score points.”
Besides Mays’ inside presence, Clemson also got 9 points and 7 rebounds from freshman Trevor Booker, who had a monster-jam with 5:30 to go in the game, which at the time gave the Tigers a 62-47 lead.
“I thought Booker struggled early and then found some energy toward the end and he played well,” Purnell said.
Other than the Tigers sluggish play at times, free throw shooting once gain appears to be a problem after Clemson hit just 9 of 21 foul shots, including a 1 for 7 effort in the first half.
“We played mentally tired tonight and I thought we shot poorly,” Purnell said.
Clemson will try to put on a better effort Friday when it hosts Appalachian State at 7:30 p.m.
Courtesy of Daily Journal