Tigers Get Big Win Over Cincinnati
ANDERSON -- When the 2002 Clemson Men’s Basketball Schedule was released, there was one game that many close to the program that had circled as a barometer of sorts…and no, it was not the trip to Chapel Hill. The Cincinnati Bearcats are coming off an upset of then-fifth-ranked Oregon and while not as highly regarded this season as in years past, are one of the most consistent and feisty teams to face no matter where or when. The Bearcats offered the kind of litmus test that would determine whether or not the Tigers’ fast start was worth some legitimate eyebrow-raising or just some eye-rolling. But Clemson used an energetic and aggressive style on defense, an opportunistic offense, and solid rebounding coupled with uncanny free throw shooting down the stretch to up-end the Cincinnati Bearcats, 58-51.
The Tigers, in front of a packed house at the Anderson County Civic Center, came out strong early on both ends of the court, showing a man-to-man defense as well as attacking the basket on offense. A Chris Hobbs basket down low, followed by a defensive rebound by Ray Henderson, which lead to a Chey Christie three-pointer that put Clemson out to an early 7-3 lead. This is the kind of momentum that the Tigers would feed off of throughout the first half of action. Cincinnati gained the lead at the 11:11 mark, 12-11, despite being a bit on the sloppy side. Clemson was not immune to mistakes either. The Tigers energy and aggression led to some early fouls and turnovers. However, despite it all, the Tigers found themselves with a 15-12 advantage at the midpoint of the first half on 7-of-12 shooting from the floor.
As the first half wound down, the momentum began to shift towards the visiting Bearcats thanks to some timely baskets, however Clemson still led at the half, 26-25. The Tigers were extremely competitive in the first stanza, as they held a 25-14 rebounding advantage at the break, which helped counteract six Clemson turnovers in the first 20 minutes. This was atypical from their 11-turnover per game average in their first six contests. Chey Christie led the Tigers in scoring in the first half with nine points, aided by six points each from Chris Hobbs and Olu Babalola. For the Bearcats, Leonard Stokes led in first half scoring with nine points. Coach Larry Shyatt commented during the intermission that while Cincinnati’s defense was quite good, Edward Scott was missing shots that he normally makes, and Shyatt hoped that the knockdown drag-out affair would continue in the second half. Edward Scott struggling to find his shooting stroke, went scoreless in the first half of play.
Apparently Edward Scott saw room for improvement as well. The Tigers’ senior point guard, on a fast break little more than two minutes in to the second half, offered up a gorgeous reverse lay-up while being fouled. After sinking the free throw to complete the three-point play, he then sank a 13-footer from the left baseline to give the Tigers a 33-25 lead. That was only the beginning. As it has been done before Scott would slowly begin to take over in the second half.
Jason Maxiel and Tony Bobbit hit consecutive baskets for the Bearcats, followed by a Leonard Stokes’ bucket to cut the deficit to two with just over nine minutes left in the second half. The Tigers’ low post players then got in to some foul trouble as Chris Hobbs and Sharrod Ford picked up their fourth fouls, which regulated them to the Clemson bench for most of the remainder of the game. A timeout called with 7:27 left in the game gave the 5,000-plus crowd in attendance a brief hiatus from a body-flying and basket-missing segment of this hard-fought game.
Maxiel, who finished with 11 points, tied the game at 47-47 on two jumpers from the low post. Edward Scott quickly squashed that spurt with a leaning jumper in the lane to put the Tigers up 52-47. Scott, who had an abysmal first half, scored all 20 of his points in the final frame to go along with his six assists. Clemson would never look back. Bobbit, who totaled 10 points, missed a free throw with 1:04 left that was rebounded by Ray Henderson. That led to Chey Christie taking a charge from Leonard Stokes, and Olu Babalola sank two free throws to with 27 seconds on the clock, essentially closing out the game and contributing to the Tigers 19-26 effort from the foul line on the night.
After the game, Coach Larry Shyatt was told that this game was not pretty. Shyatt responded with, “Who said it wasn’t pretty?” That comment was extremely indicative of this game as a whole and perhaps, just perhaps, a sign of things to come for this young Tiger squad.