CLEMSON - The hallmarks of Oliver Purnell's rebuilding efforts at Clemson, defense and rebounding, were very much in evidence Wednesday night.
And because they were, the Tigers got their first postseason victory since 1999.
Clemson held Louisiana Tech to just 16 points in the first half en route to a 69-53 victory over the Bulldogs in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament. The game was played at Littlejohn Coliseum.
The victory means Clemson (19-12) advances to the second round of the NIT next Monday, where its likely opponent will be Louisville.
Tech's Paul Milsap had his usual steady game, the 6-foot-8 center scoring 19 points and pulling down nine rebounds. But he was virtually it for the Bulldogs (20-13) for most of the night.
Louisiana Tech shot just 19-of-53 (36 percent) from the field, including a 2-for-10 night from behind the 3-point arc. Of the seven Bulldogs who took more than two shots from the field, Milsap was the only one to shoot above .500.
"We wanted to take Milsap out of the game early, go at him, double team him in the post and make him give it up," Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said. "He scored 19, but he didn't get them in critical stages of the game. He got most of them when they were in catch-up mode.
"We kept him off the glass. To hold him to nine rebounds is pretty good."
Meanwhile, his counterpart at center - Clemson's Akin Akingbala - had another outstanding night.
Akingbala led the Tigers with 16 points and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds. His play early in the game helped Clemson take control early, grabbing a lead they would never relinquish.
"I thought Akin won the matchup," Purnell said. "He got big bucket after big bucket for us to help us build the lead."
The Tigers controlled the boards, winning the rebounding battle 38-35.
Clemson also excelled at the free throw line, hitting 20-of-25 (80 percent). Tech shot just 13-of-22 (59 percent) from the stripe.
"Thought our guys played with pretty good energy," said Purnell. "I thought we could have played a little bit sounder in the second half, but we talked about that. It wasn't too bad for being off for a few days."
Leading 31-16, Clemson played serve and volley with the Bulldogs over the final 20 minutes. The lead would stretch to as many as 18. Louisiana Tech would get no closer than within
Cliff Hammonds and Vernon Hamilton each scored 14 for the Tigers, while Julius Powell added 10.