Basketball: Tigers Have Little Trouble With Gardner-Webb

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - All the ingredients were there for an upset. Small crowd. Holiday hangover. Big football game later in the evening. Even the right opposition - Gardner-Webb, who made national headlines just over two weeks ago by stunning then No. 20 Kentucky. At Rupp Arena.

Ah, but Oliver Purnell has seen it all before. Three days before, as a matter of fact, when his team was challenged by Presbyterian College into the latter stages of the second half.

Whatever the case, the 24th-ranked Tigers weren't about to become another notch in the Atlantic Sun's upset belt. Clemson shot a season-high 50 percent from the field - 58 percent from behind the 3-point line - and placed five different players in double figures Saturday afternoon en route to a 96-67 win over the Runnin' Bulldogs.

The game was played before an announced crowd of 6,320 at Littlejohn Coliseum. In reality, there was barely over half that many in attendance on a day which had many fans attention elsewhere - namely in Columbia, where the Tigers and Gamecocks were set to square off later that night at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"I told the team after the Presbyterian game that if we played like that today, we'd lose," Purnell said. "Instead I thought we played pretty well. I thought the guys bounced back nicely against a good basketball team."

Saturday it was strong perimeter shooting and a dominating effort on the boards that helped propel Clemson to 5-0 on the season.

The Tigers shot 11-of-19 from 3-point territory, 8-of 13 in a first half which saw them steadily build what would become a 17-point lead at the break (53-36). The success from the perimeter was essential because of the way the Bulldogs (4-4) defended Clemson in the opening 20 minutes.

"They were in a sagging man-to-man," said Purnell. "Everytime we got the ball inside to one of our big guys, three of their defenders would collapse on him. So it opened up the shot from the outside.

"They say that's the easiest shot in basketball; the ball coming straight to you from the low post and you catching it in rhythm and shooting. Fortunately we hit our share of them."

Cliff Hammonds took advantage of the situation the most, hitting 5-of-7 shots from behind the arc (4-of-6 in the first half). Freshman Terrence Oglesby was 3-of-4 from long distance, while K.C. Rivers nailed 3-of-6.

Meanwhile, the Tigers pounded their way to a 51-34 rebounding advantage, 21 of them coming on the offensive end. Freshman Jerai Grant and James Mays had nine rebounds each to lead the team. Eight of Grant's boards were on the offensive end, and all of his rebounds came in just 15 minutes of playing time.

He also scored nine points, just missing becoming the sixth Tiger player in double figures.

"He's a lot like his father, Harvey, was as a freshman," Purnell said. "He's really no-nonsense in there, he's long and athletic. He goes and gets the ball and sticks it right back up there."

Clemson's defense, too, was very good.

The Tigers limited Gardner-Webb to just 38.6 percent shooting on the afternoon, including a paltry 6-of-25 (24 percent) from the 3-point line. Add in 16 turnovers and five blocked shots, and it was a good afternoon all around for Purnell's team.

Except, perhaps, on the injury front.

Mays took a scary tumble in the second half when he was undercut by Samba Fall on a move to the basket. Mays, already suffering from back issues, landed hard on his left hip and was down on the floor for a few moments. Eventually he was helped to his feet and walked to the bench under his own power.

He actually returned to the floor a few moments later, but returned to the bench as Purnell began substituting more freely with a large lead.

Mays has been diagnosed with a sprained hip, and was to begin treatment immediately.

Raymond Sykes also joined the cast of the walking wounded Saturday, taking an elbow that actually moved four of his front teeth backward in his mouth. He was off to see and oral surgeon immediately following the game to have them straightened again, and Purnell said he should be ready when Clemson hosts Purdue Tuesday night.

Hammonds 16 points led Clemson, while Trevor Booker and Oglesby added 15 each. Rivers and Mays each finished with 13.

Nate Blank topped Gardner-Webb with 16 points. Thomas Sanders added 15.

The Tigers and Boilermakers will tip off at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday as part of the annual ACC-Big 10 Challenge.

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