Clemson has Booker, post advantage over Missouri

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Opportunities for Clemson basketball fans to watch senior forward Trevor Booker are dwindling quickly, and a loss on Friday to Missouri in the NCAA Tournament’s First Round would cause a premature end to one of the more dominant Clemson players in history.

A win over Mizzou, however, delays off the inevitable, and gives the man that Missouri head coach Mike Anderson called a “competitor” another chance to wear the paw.

Anderson worked with Booker this past summer in Colorado Springs as Team USA prepared for the World University Games, and Anderson said he came away impressed with Booker both on and off the court.

“Well, he's strong, he's powerful, explosive,” Anderson said. “I had a chance to work with him at the USA games in Colorado Springs, and of course, he made that team. I thought without a doubt, he's an impactful young man. He's a great, great person, and at the same time, he's a tremendous competitor, so I think, if there's something, when you talk about what makes him stand out, I think he's a competitor, he can score, and of course, he's been in tune to the way Oliver has been playing for the last four years, so he's their go-to guy.

“I think he's the ultimate competitor. He didn't back down from anybody. He was one of the better rebounders there. He just plays above the rim. He just utilizes his body in a great way, runs the floor and again, he's a quiet guy, but his game speaks for itself. I was very impressed with him. I really was.”

Booker struggled against taller teams in the past two games, against Wake Forest and N.C. State, scoring just six points against the apparently legal mugging administered by Chas McFarland in Clemson’s final regular season game, and then scored 17 points but shot just 2-for-8 from the free throw line as the Tigers lost to the Wolfpack in the opening round of the ACC Tournament.

Missouri offers Booker a chance to get back on his stride, with no starters taller than 6-foot-9, and Purnell said he expects Clemson to actually have the advantage down low.

“We have the advantage in the post, but we have to get the ball into the low post,” Purnell said. “In this kind of game, it is hard to do because they will send two or three guys down there, and they are going to send guys at Trevor. But that is where your other guys have to make plays, and if you are a good team, you should make plays. We probably have more of a post presence on offense, because they are more of a kick-and-drive team than we are.

Missouri plays a 2-3, pressure zone that they trap out of, and Purnell said Clemson’s size should give them opportunities, especially with Booker’s passing ability out of the double team.

“Trevor has proven to be an outstanding passer,” Purnell said. “We have to attack intelligently, but we have to be ready to attack.”

Booker appeared to be visibly frustrated at times during the N.C. State game, and Purnell said it was because the competitor in Booker was mad at himself for missing free throws, hitting just 1-of-6 in the first half during the loss.

“He was well-involved in the offense, and I think we got it to him early, and he scored,” Purnell said. “Of course, he struggled at the line, and he understands that is probably why we trailed at the half. We are going to get him a lot of reps in practice this week. He has come up big and won games for us from there in the past, and he has to do it now. We got the ball where we wanted to – he just has to go to the line and knock down free throws.”

If Booker and the rest of the Tigers can knock those free throws down and earn a trip into the second round, it will extend Booker’s Clemson-record of consecutive starts. The start against Missouri will be his 134th consecutive start, breaking the 133 games started by Cliff Hammonds, and Purnell marveled at Booker’s endurance and said he has cemented his place in Clemson history.

“He has been an iron man for us,” Purnell said. “He has had sprained ankles and never missed a game, and we have won an awful lot of them. He has impacted several of them on defense, and he has won them scoring and he has won games from the free throw line, as much as he has struggled recently. He is one of the best all-time here at Clemson, and maybe the best player ever to play here.”

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