Tigers Find Comfort in Return to Littlejohn


by - Correspondent -
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CLEMSON -- Chicago has the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. In Boston (for now, anyway) it's cozy Fenway Park.


For Larry Shyatt and his Clemson Tigers, it's the time-worn structure known as Littlejohn Coliseum. The building, which is now older than the Fike facility was when Littlejohn replaced it, isn't likely to win a major architectural award any time soon, and the cramped interior could use a good scrubbing.


But for the Tigers, Littlejohn at least provides some measure of comfort.


While Clemson is a miserable 225-435 (.341 winning percentage) all-time in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the story at Littlejohn Coliseum is very different. Since moving into the facility for the 1968-69 season, Clemson is 122-101 (.547) in the league, including 1-1 this season. Opposing teams have found very different, more aggressive Tigers waiting for them when they venture into the old building.


So it's no wonder that after a three losses in as many road games to the likes of heavyweights Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest, Shyatt is glad to be home tonight when Clemson takes its first look at a suddenly-rejuvenated Georgia Tech squad.


"We've played pretty good basketball in this gym this year," Shyatt said following Tuesday's practice. "I hope we can continue. Nobody's come in here and upset us, we've beaten everyone we were supposed to beat, and knocked off a pretty good N.C. State team, too."


The Yellow Jackets (10-7, 2-4 ACC) have cooled a bit after a surprising start, but still boast impressive wins over the likes of UCLA, Kentucky, Virginia and Wake Forest.


In his first season at Tech, head coach Paul Hewitt has righted a ship that had taken on serious water during the last few years of Bobby Cremins' tenure. Shyatt, among others, has taken notice.


"I admire what they're doing," Shyatt said. "They have five seniors, a junior and two freshmen who are very inspired, very hungry, and have played tremendous basketball this season. Anytime you beat those teams in one season you've done some mischief.


"It's going to be a dog fight."


One area sure to cause Clemson concern is in the middle, where Georgia Tech center Alvin Jones is averaging 14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. At 6-foot-11, Jones is Tech's only starter taller than 6-7, but could still cause major problems for a Clemson interior defense still minus 7-1 center Adam Allenspach, who likely won't play the rest of this week because of recurring back problems.


Allenspach's absence has left a noticeable void in the middle of Clemson's defense, one Shyatt noted with particular interest Tuesday.


For much of the season Allenspach has been a target for fan frustration, prompting Shyatt to put his own spin on a well-known saying.


"You don't know what you have until you don't have it any longer," he said. "That may well be the case. I know Will (Solomon) and Ed (Scott) probably feel that way, because (his absence) puts an additional offensive burden on them.


"But yet that's how growth and development occurs. Growth and development for (Ray) Henderson, (Tomas) Nagys and (Chris ) Hobbs, three guys who would not get quite the quality minutes they're getting against some great front lines this early in their career."


Notes:


-- Since 1987-88, the home team has dominated this series, winning 23 of 26 games. The last time the road team won was Clemson at Tech in 1996-97. The Tigers have won seven straight and 24 of 28 vs. the Yellow Jackets in Littlejohn Coliseum.

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