A Lot on the Line for Hokies and Tigers

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - When Sharrod Ford and Olu Babalola take the floor at Littlejohn Coliseum tonight, the Clemson seniors will be fighting for the equivalent of a golf mulligan.

Two years ago, as sophomores on what would be Larry Shyatt's last team, the Tigers finished 15-13 and were eligible for a berth in the National Invitational Tournament. But with Littlejohn due to undergo internal renovations beginning just days after the regular season ended, the school's administration said there was no way the university could host a first-round game.

Shyatt, as it turned out, was on his way out, too. So what should have been a chance at postseason experience was doomed by all those circumstances coming together at once.

So tonight's game against visiting Virginia Tech (7:06 p.m., Fox Sports South) is more than just Senior Night for the pair.

It's a chance for Clemson (14-13, 4-10 ACC) to clinch eligibility for the NIT. And with tournament officials already speaking publicly about the attractiveness of coach Oliver Purnell's team, the step from eligibility to invitation would seem to be a short one.

Of course, the Hokies have their own agenda.

Virginia Tech (14-11, 7-7) continues to harbor NCAA Tournament hopes. Their coach, Seth Greenberg, is a strong candidate for ACC Coach of the Year. And even if they fail to reach the NCAAs, a 15th win on the season would ensure Greenberg's team finishes at least two games above .500 heading into the ACC tournament.

But as the season draws to a close, Ford is playing as if he can smell the postseason.

In consecutive wins over Maryland and Florida State last week, the senior center totaled 45 points, 24 rebounds, 11 blocks and four steals - all while shooting 17-of-23 from the field.

He is getting significant help at just the right time, however. Teammate Cliff Hammons was named the ACC Rookie of the Week last week for a school record fourth time this season. Hammonds averaged 11.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in just over 31 minutes per game.

And then there's Sam Perry.

His 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game are a poor indicator of the impact Perry has had on this team since being inserted into the starting lineup. He routinely guards the opposing team's best player, and his constant energy and incredible jumping ability have led to a number of highlight-reel plays in recent outings.

Taken as a whole, Clemson's recent play prompted Purnell to say his team is finally "coming together" after Sunday's win over Florida State.

Now, all they have to do is bring it together one more time.

Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger and TigerNet. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.

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