CLEMSON - Yes, it was only a season-opening non-conference game for Clemson. But at first glance, it appears the kids are all right.
The Tigers' four remaining freshmen all played significant minutes Friday night in a 98-54 demolition of visiting Hampton. Cast as leading players a suffocating, full court pressing defense, the youngsters helped Clemson bolt out to a 31-point halftime lead; it was a margin that would only increase as the night progressed.
It was also a night in which the defensive effort translated into a team record. Clemson (1-0) recorded 25 steals, shattering the old record of 20 set twice - vs. Georgia Southern in 1976 and Western Carolina in 1998.
The 37 total turnovers forced by the Tigers was the most since Auburn coughed it up 36 times vs. Clemson in 1973.
By the time it was over, the announced crowd of 6,700 went home happy, hoping Friday's victory was a sign of things to come in year two of head coach Oliver Purnell's rebuilding effort.
"Obviously I'm very pleased with the way things turned out tonight," Purnell said. "We played with a lot of energy, and that's how this team is going to have to play if we're going to get better against better competition."
At one point in the first half Purnell had sophomore point guard Vernon Hamilton on the floor with freshmen Cliff Hammonds, Cheyenne Moore, Sam Perry and James Mays. That group's defensive effort sparked an incredible 32-4 run that put the game away early.
The four freshmen combined for 39 points, 15 rebounds, eight steals and eight assists.
More importantly, none of them looked the least bit timid at any point Friday night.
"That's they way they've been in practice and in our preseason scrimmages," Purnell said. "They're all top 100 (high school) players who've played at a high level of competition before coming here. So I guess I'd have to say I wasn't surprised that they were so aggressive."
Somewhat lost in the attention heaped on the freshmen was the career night turned in by junior guard Shawan Robinson.
Robinson scored the team's first nine points on three long-distance jump shots, and finished the night with a career-best 26 points - 22 of which came in the first half. His 6-of-7 performance from the 3-point line was also a career high.
Hammonds backed Robinson with 12 points, while Mays and Akin Akingbala added 11 each. Perry finished with 10.
Jeff Granger topped Hampton (0-1) with 16.
Clemson's Steve Allen left the game early in the second half when he reinjured his left shoulder. There was no word on his status immediately following the game.
Clemson 62, Western Carolina 55
In the first game of the doubleheader, clutch free throw shooting by freshman Tasha Taylor helped Clemson hold off a determined Western Carolina team Friday afternoon, 62-55.
Taylor hit four consecutive free throws in the final minute to keep the Lady Tigers' advantage at five. Clemson (1-0) had led by as many as 14 in the first half, but saw WCU whittle away at the advantage until twice cutting it to one point in the second half.
Clemson head coach Jim Davis played his entire roster in the first half, exposing his new players - five freshmen and two junior college transfers - to collegiate action early on. The strategy didn't come without the expected angst - Clemson committed 24 turnovers in the game to WCU's 20.
"It was sloppy, but overall not bad for the first time out," Davis said. "We've got a lot of work to do yet, but I thought our girls played hard. We got a lot of people on the floor, trying to find some chemistry. It's going to take a while."
The Lady Tigers led 33-19 late in the first half, but saw WCU (0-1) close the period with a 9-0 run.
Clemson's largest lead in the second half was seven points.
Juco transfer Reggie Maddox led the Lady Tigers with 11 points, while Lauren Allen added nine and Amanda White and Julie Talley eight each.
Lori Tanner had 11 for the Lady Cats, with Jennifer Gardner and Teyawna Hardy adding 10 each.
Clemson outrebounded WCU 53-46.
The Lady Tigers are back in action at 2 p.m. Sunday, hosting Appalachian State at Littlejohn Coliseum.