Purnell, Tigers Turn Attention To Tar Heels

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - With possibly its best two-game stretch of the season under its belt, Clemson has built up a nice bit of momentum as the ACC basketball season wears on.

Victories over Boston College and Virginia - the latter a 31-point blowout on the Cavs' home floor - have the Tigers at 5-3 in the conference (17-5 overall).

The not-so-mythical magic number for ACC teams to make the NCAA Tournament is nine. Since the postseason expanded to 64 (now 65) teams back in the mid 1980s, only two teams in the league who finished at least 9-7 in ACC play have missed the tournament - Virginia in 2000, and more recently the Florida State Seminoles.

So the way the team is playing now, coming up with at least four more wins in the next eight games isn't only possible. One might say it's probable.

Unless you're Oliver Purnell.

Then you break out the cliche' as quickly as possible.

"We're only focused on the next one," he said Friday. "We've played pretty well the last two games, but those are in the past. It's time to focus on the task at hand."

That task?

Nothing more than facing North Carolina for the second time this season. In Chapel Hill.

Where Clemson is 0-52 all time.

More on that in a moment. But the other issue at hand is facing a Tar Heel team coming off a loss to bitter rival Duke earlier this week. And now trailing the Blue Devils by two games in the conference standings, Purnell knows UNC will be highly motivated come Sunday in the Dean Dome.

"They've got conference seeding and other such things on their mind," he said. "They'll be ready to play, no doubt."

Whether the Heels will have point guard Ty Lawson back at full strength or not remains to be seen, but he is expected to play Sunday.

With Lawson, UNC may very well be the fastest team in the country in transition, whether the opponent makes or misses a shot. He also takes care of the basketball, committing just one turnover while piling up 30 assists in his last outings before the injury.

Without Lawson? Well, backup Quentin Thomas committed six of the Tar Heels' 20 turnovers in Wednesday's loss to Duke. That's enough to convince Purnell that Lawson will be ready to go Sunday.

"Really you throw out that (Duke) game film, because they're a different team with him in the lineup," Purnell said. "We won't really have to adjust our game plan much from the first game (the painful overtime loss at Littlejohn Coliseum). I'd like to think we can be in the same position, with a chance to win late in the game."

And about the 0-52. Will it be addressed before the game?

"I don't know. If it comes up in the course of conversation, then yeah, I'll talk about it (with the team)," he said. "But we won't focus on it. The streak was (30) or more years running before most of these guys were even born."

Tipoff Sunday in Chapel Hill is 6:30 p.m.

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