Lessons Learned Pay Off For Tigers Second Time Around

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON --- Everyday heading up to Saturday’s ACC clash with Virginia, Clemson basketball coach Oliver Purnell gave his squad a history lesson on their last outing against the Cavaliers.

Clemson was physically bullied in its Jan. 7 loss in Charlottesville, Va., being out rebounded by 18, including a double-double from center Jason Cain, who had a game-high 10 rebounds to go with 12 points.

“Coach (Purnell) was saying that’s Virginia’s identity,” forward Sam Perry said. “They are a tough team and their coach has instilled that in them, which they are. But they were in our house.”

And in the Tigers’ house, the Cavaliers were, well, Cavalier at best. Clemson out rebounded the Cavs by two and by more than seven on the offensive glass in a 90-64 victory at Littlejohn Coliseum.

“They out rebounded us by 18 up there and we thought that was one key to the game,” Purnell said. “We need to rebound the weak side and that’s not just our big guys (responsibilities), but that’s also our guards.”

Clemson (16-11, 5-9) was tougher, stronger and more physical than Virginia in just about every facet of the game. Besides out rebounding the Cavaliers, Clemson forced 29 turnovers and held Virginia’s shooters to a 34.6 percent shooting performance in the second half.

“We like to use a quote ‘We’re not going to let anyone punk us,’” Perry said. “That’s what we like to say. There isn’t anything bad about that, we’re just going to go out and play them tough.”
The Tigers proved their toughness in the opening minutes of the game. Using a diamond press full-court defense, Clemson forced 13 Virginia turnovers in the opening 10 minutes while racing out to a 32-7 lead.

“We reverted back to (the press) the last two games and it just worked out real well for us today,” guard Shawan Robinson said. “They had problems getting the ball up the court and getting shots off.

“We didn’t press them like that the first time we played them. They just kept giving us the ball and we made the most of it.”
Virginia got off just nine shots in the opening 10 minutes of the first half.

“Our full court pressure-defense in the first half obviously yielded a lot of dividends for us,” Purnell said. “The fact that we made shots at the same time also helped and we also got a bunch of lay ups off of our defense.”
Robinson, along with Cliff Hammonds and Julius Powell came out smoking, hitting 6 of 9 three-pointers to start the game.

“We couldn’t miss a shot,” Clemson point guard Vernon Hamilton said. “I looked, saw Shawan was making a shot, blinked and he was making another shot.”
Robinson finished with a team-high 22 points to pace the Tigers. Hammonds finished with 8 points, but was 2 for 3 from behind the 3-point line. Powell had 10 points and was also 2 of 3 from behind the arc.

“It started on defense,” Robinson said. “When we hit shots and get stops like that, the skies the limit.”
And the limit on Saturday was 14 steals and the most forced turnovers by a Clemson team in an ACC game since 1969.

“That’s the style we went in the season hoping to play eighty five or ninety percent of the time,” Purnell said about the Tigers’ press defense. “Losing (James) Mays early, who was the point of our press, and now we had to go to a couple of young guys so we don’t use it as much as we would like to use it, but it is still a big part of what we do.

“That was our idea going into the year, but every game we have to have a different kind of road map.”
And that map allowed the Tigers to pull of its biggest margin of victory over the Cavaliers since a 99-72 win in 1965. It was also Clemson’s largest margin of victory in an ACC game since a 26-point win over Florida State in 2000.

“Shots were falling, we were getting steals and a lot of deflections off of our diamond press and that just carried over the entire game,” center Akin Akingbala said after scoring 14 points and grabbing five boards.

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