Rivers Helps Tigers Avoid Upset

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON - K.C. Rivers said he was tired of people saying that he faded in the second half of games, so on Sunday, with his Clemson Tigers trailing Liberty by seven at the half, the senior captain decided to do something about it.

Rivers scored 25 of his career-high 32 points in the second half, including the first 14 of the half, to lead the Tigers to an 80-75 victory over the Flames at Littlejohn Coliseum, propelling Clemson to a perfect 9-0 record and moving them into position for a Top 25 ranking on Monday.

"That is my job being the captain," Rivers said of his strong effort in crunch time. "I have taken a little criticism for being a quiet leader, but today I got the chance to be vocal and lead by example, and it paid off. It wasn't pretty, but we will take it.
"For me personally, the past two years, people said I faded in the second half, but today I wasn't fading. I was going to get it, I wanted to win, and there wasn't anything going to stand in my way of winning that ballgame, and I went and got it. I was holding myself accountable for the rest of the guys - it was my job to get the job done."

The Flames, who went with a five guard lineup most of the game, proved their mettle early in the contest, jumping out to eight-point leads a couple of times, the earliest at 19-11 when Brolin Floyd hit a layup with 13:55 remaining. The Tigers chipped away over the next few minutes, tying the score at 25 on a Terrence Oglesby three-pointer from the left side at the 9:04 mark.

With the score tied at 27, the Flames then went on an 8-0 run for a 35-27 lead, then pushed their advantage to nine at 40-31 with 1:52 remaining in the half. Booker scored four straight points to bring Clemson to within five at 40-35, but Anthony Smith scored just before halftime and the Flames led 42-35 at the break.

Rivers then scored his 14, but Clemson trailed by nine at that point, 58-49, and from there Liberty went onto their biggest lead of the night at 64-52 on a lay-in by Johnny Stephene, with 11:55 remaining in the game.

Trailing 66-54 with 9:54 remaining, the Tigers put themselves and the crowd back into the game, with a 13-0 run that was textbook Clemson. Booker started the run with a nice move on the inside, then Terrence Oglesby hit two three-pointers in a 37-second span to bring Clemson to within four at 66-62. Rivers then took a feed from Booker and hit a short jumper to bring Clemson to within two at 66-64.

Oglesby helped bring the house down after a steal, feeding Demontez Stitt with a behind-the-back pass for a basket with 6:43 remaining, and Clemson was tied for the first time since midway through the first half. Stitt added a free throw twenty seconds later for the first Clemson lead of the second half, but Liberty freshman Seth Curry, son of former NBA player Dell Curry and younger brother of Davidson standout Stephen Curry, hit a three-pointer and Anthony Smith hit a bucket for a 71-67 lead with just over three minutes remaining.
The good times ended for the Flames at that point, however, as Clemson scored the next six points, and 13 of the last 15 points in the game, to pull away for the victory.

"That was a walk in the park, Central (Park) after dark," a relieved Oliver Purnell said after the game. "I just have so much admiration for their team the way they play. They gave us everything we wanted, and we had to struggle to win the game."
Purnell also said that he gives his Tigers a passing grade for the first third of the season, and hopes to find a little reward when the rankings come out on Monday.

"We are very pleased with the win, and the first thing I told the guys was they get an A for the first third of the season," Purnell said. "They have been working hard since August, and I thought we played teams that are better than most people realize. I am assuming we will be ranked tomorrow; if not, that is a major mistake because this is one of the Top 25 teams in the country, and it should happen tomorrow."
Liberty coach Ritchie McKay said Clemson had too much Rivers for his team at the end of the game.

"Clemson is a very good team, and just watching tape of them prior to the game was no fun," McKay said. "K.C. Rivers is a tremendous player, and he played like a first team, all-conference selection our there today, and arguable an honorable mention or first or second team All American. Today, he was special, and that is what seniors do."

Rivers also added 11 rebounds to his effort, while Booker tossed in 18 points and eight rebounds. Oglesby was the only other Tiger in double figures, scoring 12. Curry scored 24 to lead Liberty.

Also in attendance at Sunday's game was Dell Curry, who spent several years playing up the road for the Charlotte Hornets, and now travels around to watch both sons play, and he had nice words for Clemson's team.

"This is a great atmosphere," Curry said. "This is my first time here, and this is good experience for Liberty. They are such a young team, and they had the big lead, but you expected Clemson to make a run. Hopefully, this helped them with their confidence and how to secure a lead for when they begin conference play."

Curry also said he enjoyed watching the Tigers, especially Stitt and Rivers, who he watched when they were in high school in Charlotte.

"Of course, Booker is a good player," Curry said. "Rivers and Stitt are from Charlotte, and K.C. got off to a good start there in the second half. Demontez is a good guard, and it's just a joy to watch those kids play. For Rivers, that is what you want a senior captain to do. He hit some big shots, showed his range, and went outside and inside. I am sure that is what Coach Purnell asked him to do is go win the game."

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