Babalola Leads Tigers Over Stockman's Buckeyes


by - Correspondent -
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CLEMSON - Two players returned to Littlejohn Coliseum Wednesday night. One a much-hyped former Tiger, the other very nearly a former Tiger himself as recently as last week.


By the time the night was over, the one still wearing orange and white had the last laugh.


Senior Olu Babalola returned from a two-game suspension to score 17 points off the bench, leading Clemson (3-1) to an 80-73 win over Ohio State in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. The victory helped the ACC maintain its dominance in the series - the league has won all six of the Challenges since the series began in 1999.


In 25 minutes, Babalola added eight rebounds, a blocked shot, an assist and a steal to his linescore. More importantly he hit 7-of-9 free throws, including a pair with :28 left which put Clemson up by six, 76-70.


He hit two-of-four in the last :10 for Clemson's final points.




It was the kind of performance Tigers' head coach Oliver Purnell hoped to get from Babalola from the outset of the season, and now hopes the message sent by the suspension served the proper purpose.


"He's capable of giving you athleticism, emotion and experience," Purnell said. "When he brings that to us obviously we're a much better team. We've had several talks; one of them was at the beginning of the year when I told him he needed to give us consistent athleticism and experience, and when he did that he was going to play more.


"Just before the suspension and after the suspension that came up again. I think he gets it. This is certainly evidence of that. Now the key for him is to remain consistent and enjoy his senior year."


Afterwards, Babalola said he was trying to make sure the whole episode turns into a positive, for both himself and the team.


"From my standpoint, as a senior, I didn't want to give off any negative energy when we were down," he said.


And the Tigers were down early, thanks in part to the other Littlejohn returnee - Ohio State senior guard Tony Stockman.


Stockman, who played his first two collegiate seasons at Clemson before transferring two years ago, scored 16 of the Buckeyes' (5-2) 28 points on a variety of nifty moves and long-distance bombs. Stockman hit his first six shots - four from behind the 3-point arc - in helping his team to a 35-25 lead with 3:41 to go in the first half.


Stockman scored just six points in the second half and was held without a 3-point attempt in the final 20 minutes, but overall played well in his return to Clemson.


If fact, he said the catcalls from the Clemson student section seemed to make things easier for him.


"My teammates were saying that (the fans) don't know I like that stuff," Stockman said. "I do. I think it helped me, actually, in the first half a little bit, them getting on me. (In the second half Clemson) picked up their defensive pressure, and other guys on my team were making shots. That's how it goes sometimes."


Purnell said the coaching staff made no real adjustments on Stockman in the second half. Instead, he said, it was a simple matter of doing a better job fundamentally.


"I thought we left him a few times in the first half. I thought the players made an adjustment; they tightened up on him some," Purnell said. "We got to him late in transition a couple of times in the first half, (and) off the penetration we were leaving him. You never leave him. I thought the players made the adjustments.


"All we did was holler and scream 'Don't leave him.' That was pretty much it."


Clemson used a 20-3 run over the final moments of the first half and first 2:30 of the second half to take a 45-38 lead.


The Buckeyes caught up at 47-47 a few minutes later, and still held tight at 57-57 when Je'Kel Foster hit a 3-pointer at 8:54 to put OSU up by three. The lead was extended to 65-60 a short time later when Stockman picked Sharrod Ford's pocket on the Clemson end and drove the length of the floor for a layup.


But Ford (20 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks) answered with a short jumper on Clemson's next trip down. Then, following a Stockman miss, Babalola nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game at 65-65 with 4:10 remaining.


Shawan Robinson then stole the inbound pass, fed the ball to Hammonds on the left wing, who quickly kicked it back to Robinson for another 3-pointer and a 68-65 lead.


Stockman answered with a jumper at 3:41 to cut the lead to 68-67, but it would be the last Ohio State basket for nearly three minutes. In the interim, Ford hit a pair of jumpers and Robinson two free throws to push Clemson's lead to 74-67.


The Buckeyes never got closer than three points in the final 38 seconds.


"It was an outstanding and important win for our program and our team," Purnell said. "Our young team winning against a high-caliber opponent early in the season has got to help us confidence-wise."


***


Before the game, Clemson announced that it had signed head coach Oliver Purnell to a two-year contract extension. His deal now runs through the end of the 2011 season.


No financial terms were released.

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