CLEMSON -- Will Solomon smiled when asked about his new role on the Clemson University basketball team, a role quite different from the shoot early, shoot often part he played on last year's squad.
"I like playing team basketball because I like winning," Solomon said following the Tigers' 86-67 win over Hartford in Friday's season opener. "If you pass the ball you get everybody involved, (then) you can't be a one-man show."
That one-man show played to poor ratings a season ago. Though Solomon led the ACC in scoring (20.9) and earned All-Conference honors, the Tigers finished an abysmal 10-20 due in large part to a lack of offensive support.
So when head coach Larry Shyatt began preseason workouts by promising more scoring punch from several different sources, Solomon's role on the Tigers was bound to change. But not his importance to the team.
Solomon, who is from Hartford, scored 11 of his 17 points and handed out six of his eight assists during the first half Friday, a half which saw Clemson run -- literally -- out to a 22-point lead, 54-32, by the break. The Tigers pushed the ball at every opportunity against the Hawks, even rushing the ball up the floor in transition after made Hartford baskets.
Shyatt went out of his way to praise Solomon and the way the junior guard has handled the change in his role.
"That's the finest job I've ever seen of any star I've ever been around, and I've been with about 15 (NBA) lottery picks or first rounders," the coach said. "That's the most unselfish, humble, composed...And especially when you play against your Hometown Harry's where perhaps you've put a little more pressure (on yourself).
"He's my hero tonight, and I mean that from an emotional growth as well as a basketball growth. He punched it around, he guarded and he was verbal. I heard him the loudest of any player on our team."
Solomon's play met the approval his teammates, as well. Three other Tigers scored in double figures -- Pasha Bains (20), Adam Allenspach (16) and Tony Stockman (11) -- and all were there by halftime.
The only lull came in the second half when Hartford seemingly caught Clemson off guard by switching from man-to-man defense to a zone. The Tigers went through a dry shooting spell that allowed the Hawks to trim the 22-point deficit to just eight, 71-63, with 5:30 left in the game.
But Clemson answered with a quick 8-2 run, capped by back-to-back 3-pointers from Bains and Solomon, to end any thoughts Hartford had of a dramatic comeback.
"They hit us with something we weren't ready for," Bains said of Hartford's zone. "But we'll be ready next time."
Keyon Smith scored 17 points to lead the Hawks, who played without last year's America East All-Rookie performer Pierre Johnson. Johnson sat out with a sprained knee suffered earlier this week in practice.
Notes: Clemson has now won 16 straight season openers, and 28 of its last 29...Solomon came into Friday's game needing just 160 points to reach 1,000 for his career. To date only 26 Tigers have made that plateau, just 11 of which reached it before their senior season...Allenspach made his 96th career appearance Friday, his 40th as a starter...Edward Scott played with a patch over his right eyebrow, covering an injury he suffered Thursday. At one point early Friday morning the eye was swollen shut, but team doctors were able to reduce the swelling and improve his vision to the point that Scott could start...Hartford was picked to finish No. 9 in the 10-member America East Conference...The Hawks radio color analyst is former Boston Celtics Hall of Fame player and coach K.C. Jones.