Tigers overcome offensive woes, steal big win at FSU

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It definitely wasn’t pretty and was less than graceful most of the time, but the Clemson Tigers put just enough good moves together on Sunday to pick up a key ACC road win, coming from behind to defeat Florida State 53-50, sweeping the season series with the Seminoles, and probably earning an invitation to the NCAA Tournament as well.

Trevor Booker scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and then proved why he is one of the best players in the ACC when he hit four straight free throws in the final 11 seconds and then blocked a 3-point shot by the Seminoles' Deividas Dulkys with 5 seconds left that could have tied it.

With the win, the Tigers improve to 20-8 (8-6 ACC), good for a tie for third in the conference, while Florida St. falls to an identical record.

“I am just so proud of our guys,” Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said. “Losing the way we did at Maryland, and then having a short turnaround, this is not an easy place to recover, but we came down here and stayed on the defensive side of the floor, and we were tough when our offense was sputtering.

“But our guys didn’t get down, and they kept their defensive mindset on the game. It would have been easy to not get after it, but our defense kept us in there in that 10 to 12 point range, and then we started getting something going offensively. As a result, we were able to steal one on the road.”

With the win, the Tigers’ RPI, a key indicator for the NCAA Selection Committee, jumped all the way to 27th in the nation.

The first half saw the Tigers get down 9-0 as Clemson played one of its worst halves of the season. The Tigers made just six-of-26 shots, following a 2-for-18 start, and endured field goal droughts of 7:57 and 6:26 as the Seminoles built a 19-6 lead.

The Tiger offense then came to life, and Andre Young hit a shot just inside of half court at the buzzer to pull Clemson to within 21-19 at halftime, capping a 10-2 Tiger run.

The Tigers started the second half on an 8-0 run to take a 27-21 lead, but the Seminoles bounced back and took their biggest lead of the second half, 43-37, when Chris Singleton hit two free throws with 3:23 remaining.

The teams traded buckets, but Tanner Smith hit a huge 3-pointer from the corner, on a pass from Demontez Stitt, with 2:35 remaining to pull Clemson to within three at 45-42. Two Stitt free throws with 54 second left got Clemson to within two at 47-45 and the Tigers then forced a turnover when David Potter stole the ball from the Seminoles’ Michael Snaer.

Young then hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 30 seconds left to push the Tigers back in front at 49-47. Booker fouled Seminole big man Solomon Alabi with 14 seconds remaining, but Alabi missed the second of two free throws, and Booker was fouled after pulling down the rebound. He drained both to give Clemson 51-48 lead with 11 seconds left, and FSU called timeout to set up a play for Dulkys.

The pass to Dulkys in the corner was read perfectly by Booker, who blocked the shot, then had the presence of mind to grab the ball. He was fouled, hit both free throws, and most likely sent Clemson dancing.

“Young hit that big three at the end of the half from half court, and that was momentum builder for us,” Purnell said. “We then came out of the half and got better offensively, but FSU is a good team and came back on their home court. But in the last six minutes, we got good shots and hit our free throws, which is what you want on the road.”

*Both teams had more turnovers than made field goals. The ratio was 18 to 17 for Clemson, and 20 to 16 for FSU.

*The win made Clemson’s seniors the winningest class in Clemson history with 92. They have 34 ACC wins in that stretch.

*The win gave Clemson 20 victories for the 4th consecutive season, the first time that has happened in school history.

*The win also gave head coach Oliver Purnell his fourth 20-win season at the helm of the Tigers, a school record. He had been tied with former head coach Bill Foster with three 20-win seasons.

*Going into the game, FSU was 18-1 when leading at the half this season. Ironically, Clemson was 18-1 when leading at the half before falling to Maryland earlier this past week.

*Booker started his 130th consecutive game for the Tigers, a Clemson record he now shares with Cliff Hammonds.

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