CLEMSON - It just goes to show, you never know.
One game after drilling South Carolina by 19 points in perhaps its best performance of the season, Clemson nearly fell victim to a major upset Tuesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum. Tyler Berg's game-winning 3-point attempt at the buzzer rimmed out, allowing Clemson to escape with a 62-60 victory over visiting Wofford.
The game was played before an announced crowd of 6,500.
"We didn't play with the energy and intensity that we have been," said Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell. "We were finally able to flip the switch and get better, but by that time we're in a close game with a confident team who thinks it can win.
"My hat's off to Wofford. They handled our pressure and exploited some of the things we do defensively. There's nobody in this building happier to get out of here with a win than I am."
Berg's near miss came as Wofford (3-5) tried to erase a four-point deficit in the final minute. The Terriers were able to draw within two on a pair of free throws by Howard Wilkerson with 1:01 to go.
Clemson (7-0) ran as much time off the clock as possible on the ensuing possession before getting an open shot to put the game away. But freshman K.C. Rivers missed the 3-pointer from the left corner, and Wofford rebounded and immediately called time out with :22 remaining.
Following the break the Terriers tried to set up a play for its best 3-point shooter, Shane Nichols, for the final shot. But he never got the ball thanks to great defense - first by Cliff Hammonds to deny the initial pass, then by Vernon Hamilton to keep Nichols covered.
Instead, point guard Byron Fields found Berg in the right corner with time winding down. But Berg's shot over an onrushing Akin Akingbala hit the back of the iron and came off, and the Tigers escaped with the two-point win.
"At first I thought Akin might have gotten a piece of it," said Purnell. "I thought it was going to be short. But it just kept going and going. It got legs on the way up there."
"I expected us to compete and have a chance to win at the end, and we did that," said Wofford head coach Mike Young. "We did things that will help Clemson improve. I felt like Rocky against the Russian. Those guys were fierce.
"This game proves you have to bring your 'A' game every night."
Clemson never got the momentum swing that has been so commonplace in the season's first month.
Wofford's ability to handle the Tigers' pressure defense kept the Terriers from falling victim to a large run. And though it shot just 6-of-16 from the 3-point arc, it seemed every one of the six that hit home came at just the right time. None was bigger than Adam Sheehan's trey from the left wing at 4:55 which gave Wofford a 56-54 lead.
Sheehan hit a pair of free throws moments later to put the Terriers back on top 58-56.
But back-to-back baskets by Hamilton and a shot in the paint by James Mays over a 3:00 span put the Tigers up 62-58, setting the stage for the final sequence.
Shawan Robinson led Clemson with 17 points, followed by Akingbala with 14, Hamilton with 12 and Mays with 10.
Nichols topped Wofford with 11 points, while Berg, Fields and Wilkerson all added 10.
Clemson is back in action this Friday, hosting East Tennessee State.