Tigers Hope to Finish Strong

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON -- It was about this time last month when Clemson's basketball players and fans were talking about a possible berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers were 13-3 and just needed to split six of their final 12 ACC games to secure an NCAA berth. But since then, Clemson has lost seven of its last eight games, produced its worst shooting effort of the Oliver Purnell era at Miami, lost a double-overtime thriller to N.C. State, lost another heartbreaker in overtime to Virginia Tech and suffered disappointing defeats at Florida State and at Boston College.

After talking about the NCAAs, the Tigers are now hoping to just finish the season with a winning record and earn maybe another berth in the NIT.

"It's been hard for them, but they have listened every night to what we have had to say and have come back to play and fight hard the next night," Purnell said about the mood of his basketball team.

But how much is left in this Clemson team? The answer may lie with seniors Akin Akingbala, Steve Allen and Shawan Robinson.

After losing nine of their first 10 ACC games last year, seniors Sharrod Ford and Olu Babalola rallied their young teammates and guided the Tigers to four wins in their last six conference outings, including two wins over Maryland. They went onto to beat the Terps again in the ACC tournament before advancing to the NIT ­ the first postseason appearance for Clemson since 1999.

With starting point guard Vernon Hamilton listed as doubtful for tonight's 8 p.m. home game against Maryland, Clemson is going to need all three members of this year's senior class to get the job done.

"I'm concerned about all of our guys and how they will handle the rest of the season," Purnell said. "I would hope for (our seniors) this will make them play harder.

"I hope they are telling themselves 'That I'm not going to cheat myself or my teammates by just pulling it in.' They are nearing the end of their careers and because of that I hope it makes them play harder and want to do more to help this team succeed." The last couple of weeks have been trying times in the Clemson locker room.

Despite improving in areas ­ free throw shooting and turnovers ­ that were costing them games, the Tigers are still finding ways to lose games.

Clemson (14-10, 3-8) rallied from a 14-point deficit at Boston College Saturday to tie the game up, but then scored just two points in the final
1:39 in a 67-61 loss. Boston College's Sean Williams got two huge blocks in the final minute and Jared Dudley scored five of his 13-second half points in the last 1:16 to down the Tigers. Clemson finished the game with only nine turnovers.

"It's frustrating," Purnell said. "We just aren't finishing the deal. We are getting better in certain areas of the game, but we just aren't finishing them.

"The parity in this league is so close that if we can just get a win that might be all we need to get us on a roll heading into the tournament." But tonight's opponent isn't going to be willing to let the Tigers test that theory. Maryland (15-8,5-5) has lost four its last five games and is on the proverbial bubble to make the field of 64.

"They need a win and they're going to be a very motivated team," Purnell said. "We are going to be very motivated. It should be another heck of a ball game. I just hope we can close the deal this time." And maybe start just enough talk about what tournament Clemson might be spending the postseason playing in ­ instead of there being no talk at all.

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