Clemson Holds Off Miami At Littlejohn, 79-69

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - Longtime fans of Clemson basketball will tell you that nothing comes easy for this program.

So with a couple of milestones within reach Wednesday night and a 21-point first half lead in hand, you'd forgive them for not being surprised when Miami stormed back to take a lead in the second half.

But these Tigers seem intent on forging a new identity for the program. And when challenged, they found a way to answer the Hurricanes' surge and ended up with a 79-69 victory at Littlejohn Coliseum.

The game was played before an announced crowd of 9,347.

The victory was important for a number of reasons, and not just because the team had played so poorly its last time out at Florida State. But with their NCAA Tournament resume' still being crafted, Oliver Purnell's team added a few necessary lines for the tournament committee to consider.

- The win was the 20th of the season for Clemson (20-7), marking the second straight year Purnell's team has reached that milestone. Only one other time in school history have the Tigers posted back-to-back 20-win seasons;

- And the victory put Clemson at 8-5 in the ACC, the first time the program has won at least that many league games in 11 years.

"This minimizes our struggle down the road," said Purnell. It's always tough to lose two in a row, especially in this league. So it's great to win this one. Our team is resilient, and they are experienced in these kind of games. So that really helps."

Despite early appearances, it wouldn't come easy.

Clemson led by 21 in the first half and 17 at the break, but Miami (19-8, 6-7) began to rally almost from the time they left the locker room for the final 20 minutes.

The 'Canes opened the half on a 10-2 run to cut the margin to nine, 43-34, forcing a Clemson timeout. It was still a 10-point lead - 52-42 - when Miami ran off on another big run, this time 18-7. The surge culminated with a 3-pointer by Jack McClinton that put the 'Canes on top for the first - and as it turned out the only - time in the game, 60-59.

Cliff Hammonds answered with a basket on Clemson's next possession to put his team back on top by one. a basket which fueled a 13-4 run by the Tigers over a span of 3:21. K.C. Rivers, who finished with a team-high 19 points, scored seven during the run that put his team back in control.

Hammonds also got a key block on a McClinton drive to the basket which helped stifle the Hurricanes down the stretch.

Miami would not get closer than seven points the rest of the way.

"Cliff Hammonds' shot block was definitely the game-changing moment," said Purnell. "I never got the impression that (the players) got down, and the crowd stayed in the game, too. We have a great crowd and have been successful at home, so that helped."

Hammonds followed Rivers in the Clemson scoring column with 12 points, while James Mays added 10.

McClinton, who was held to just two points in the first half, finished with 18 to pace the 'Canes. Eddie Rios came off the bench to add 12, while James Dews and Dwayne Collins had 11 each.

Clemson hit 10-of-16 attempts from the 3-point line, including 7-of-9 in the first half. Rivers was 4-of-5 from behind the arc.

The Tigers also hit 23-of-34 free throws (67.6 percent), including 5-of-6 in the final 1:56.

Clemson is back in action on Sunday, traveling to Maryland.

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