Commentary: Basketball Seniors Celebrate In Style


by - Correspondent -
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CLEMSON - The three seniors stood atop the table at press row and took turns addressing an adoring crowd.

Minutes earlier, Oliver Purnell's Clemson basketball team had finally put away Virginia Tech, 70-69, in an atypical - if not controversial - finish for this program. Down one with 3.8 seconds remaining, freshman point guard Demontez Stitt hit a pair of free throws to win the game.

It was a victory which tied the school record for most wins in an ACC season (10), and it wrapped up the No. 3 seed in the upcoming league tournament - the highest finish for a Clemson team in nearly 20 years.

Along the way, there were bumps and bruises. Stumbles and even a few falls. But unlike other Clemson teams, this one always found a way to get back up and, as Purnell said a couple of weeks back, "Keep On Truckin.'"

"We didn't say we were going to be smooth riding. We were gonna scrape a few gears," Purnell said Monday morning.

That they did.

But it's the gear-scraping and overall uphill battle this team - this program - has faced since Purnell's arrival which will make next Sunday's NCAA Tournament selection show that much more gratifying.

A year after wasting a 17-0 start and missing the Big Dance, this team and those three seniors - Cliff Hammonds, James Mays and Sam Perry - simply wouldn't allow their final year of eligibility to pass without at least one trip to the NCAAs.

How high they're seeded and in which Regional they land is still to be determined, and how well the Tigers perform in the ACC Tournament this weekend in Charlotte could have much to do with both. But make no mistake about it. This team is going dancing.

And the three seniors are the ones who laid the foundation for the program to finally rise from the depths of near-obscurity.

Purnell acknowledged as much in Sunday's postgame, when he said that Hammonds, Mays and Perry are the chief reason he's still Clemson's coach after five seasons.

Monday, he elaborated.

"If these guys aren't here we don't have good recruiting years, don't come in and do some of the things (we've) done, and have some problems from a win-loss standpoint in our program," he said. "Obviously you know the profession we're in, the business we're in. You've got to win games.

"I wanted our guys to know that these guys set an example, did things in (the right) way, and certainly won to the point that everyone is looking to our program as one that's on the uptick.

"One of the things we talked about when we came here was changing the perception of our program internally and externally. These guys are major contributors to that happening."

So they celebrated. Seniors basking in their final game at Littlejohn Coliseum. Freshmen like Stitt and Terrence Oglesby also playing major roles.

Playing as a team. Ten deep in the rotation. Solid as a program.

The task now, Purnell said, is remembering that Sunday wasn't the end of the chapter. There are still plenty of blank pages in the book, pages yet to be written about a season in which so much more can still be accomplished.

"That's not what we set out to do, to end things on Senior Night," he said. "We set out to win the National Championship."

Lofty goal? Absolutely.

But in less than two weeks these Tigers will have a 1-in-65 shot at pulling off such a trick.

They are odds Clemson's program - and fans - haven't seen in over a decade.

***

The ACC Tournament begins Thursday afternoon. Yes, they will play Thursday basketball in Charlotte without Clemson.

The Tigers meet the Maryland-Boston College winner at 9:30 p.m. Friday.

Here, for your reading pleasure, is a capsule look at the tournament's first four games:


#8 Wake Forest (17-12, 7-9 ACC) vs. #9 Florida State (18-13, 7-9)
Game 1 - Noon
Series record: Wake Forest leads 22-15
In ACC Tournament: Wake Forest leads 3-0

The teams met twice during the regular season, with Wake Forest winning 74-57 
at home and 78-70 in Tallahassee ? Freshman James Johnson led the Deacons with 
26 points and nine rebounds in the game at Winston-Salem, while Ralph Mims? 17 
points paced FSU ? Chas McFarland had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Wake in the 
road win at FSU, while Toney Douglas scored 28 and Jason Rich 25 for the Seminoles 
? Previous ACC Tournament meetings saw Wake win 68-65 in 1997, 69-61 in 2003 and 
78-66 in 2006 ... All of those games were played at the Greensboro Coliseum ... 
The 2006 meeting was a first-round game, while the previous two meetings came 
in the quarterfinals.

ACC Tournament Records:
Wake Forest  42-50
Florida State 6-16
------------------------------
#5 Miami (21-9, 8-8) vs. #12 NC State (15-15, 4-12)
Game 2 - 2:30 p.m.
Series record: NC State leads 4-2
In ACC Tournament: First meeting

NC State posted a 79-77 overtime win in January in the only regular-season meeting 
at Raleigh. Gavin Grant led the Wolfpack with 22 points and played 40 turnover-free 
minutes. Miami?s Jack McClinton went 4-of-9 from 3-point range en route to a game-high 
26 points ? Two of the five meetings between the teams since Miami joined the ACC have 
gone at least one overtime. The Wolfpack posted an 86-77 double-overtime road win in 2006 
? The only meeting between NC State and Miami prior to 2005 came in 1940, with the 
Wolfpack winning 46-35 at Raleigh.

ACC Tournament Records:
Miami 2-3
NC State 61-44
------------------------------
#7 Georgia Tech (14-16, 7-9) vs. #10 Virginia (15-14, 5-11)
Game 3 - 7:00 p.m.
Series record: Georgia Tech leads 37-29
In ACC Tournament: Series tied 4-4

The teams split a pair of regular-season meetings, with each team winning on 
the road ? Georgia Tech scored a 92-82 overtime win at Charlottesville as 
Matt Causey?s 18 points keyed five players in double figures. Gain Lawal added 
15 for the Yellow Jackets, while Mamadi Diane and Calvin Baker each had 16 for 
the Cavaliers ? Baker?s late 3-point shot lifted Virginia to a 76-74 win in 
Atlanta. Sean Singletary had 17 points and six assists for the Cavaliers, while 
Georgia Tech?s Zack Peacock delivered 23 points and seven assists in 26 minutes ? 
The teams last met at the ACC Tournament in the 2001 quarterfinals at the 
Atlanta Georgia Dome, with the Yellow Jackets winning 74-69.

ACC Tournament Records:
Georgia Tech  19-25
Virginia    30-53
-----------------------------------
#6 Maryland (18-13, 8-8) vs. #11 Boston College (13-16, 4-12)
Game 4 - 9:30 p.m.
Series record: Maryland leads 5-4
In ACC Tournament: Boston College leads 1-0

BC and Maryland played the first ACC game of the 2007-08 season on Dec. 9, with 
the Eagles winning 81-78 at College Park. Tyrese Rice led BC with 19 points and 
seven assists, while James Gist had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins ? 
Maryland avenged the loss with a 70-65 road win in February. Greivis Vasquez?s 
25 points and eight assists led the Terps, and Gist came up big again with 23 points. 
John Oates went 8-of-8 from the floor and led the Eagles with 21 points ? The lone 
ACC Tournament meeting between the programs came in 2006 at Greensboro, with BC 
winning 80-66 in the quarterfinals.

ACC Tournament Records:
Maryland     41-50
Boston College  3-2

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