Youth on Display at Bi-Lo Center

by - Correspondent -
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GREENVILLE - Much has been made of four freshmen playing a major role this season for Oliver Purnell at Clemson. If anyone can understand his situation, it's Georgia head coach Dennis Felton.

Freshmen have accounted for 69 percent of the minutes played by the Bulldogs this season, easily the highest percentage in the SEC. That, combined with the fact that his team has only seven players on scholarship this year, has put Felton through a trying second season at Georgia (7-14, 1-10 SEC).

But if Felton is looking for sympathy - which he isn't - he sure won't find it tonight when Purnell's Tigers (11-12, 2-9 ACC) meet the Bulldogs in Greenville at the Bi-Lo Center (7:30 p.m.).

"He doesn't need my sympathy, but I understand what he's going through," Purnell said with a laugh. "I've been through it several times myself. Dennis and I are friends, but right now is not the time to show sympathy for Dennis. That would be at a different time. We're both at the same point here.

"We both need a win."

Both teams will flood the floor with youngsters tonight in search of that win.

Seven freshmen and two sophomores will make up nine of the 10 starters this evening. The lineup will be especially tenuous for Georgia, which will play its third straight game without leading scorer Levi Stukes (ankle) and likely its first without Stukes' backcourt mate, Channing Toney, who missed the last 12 minutes of the Bulldogs' last game (Kentucky) with a strained hip flexor muscle.

With that many youngsters playing key minutes for both teams, Purnell said the flow of the game could stagger.

"Expect the unexpected," he said. "Anytime you've got a number of young players they're going to make some mistakes, and yet at the same time I think you're going to see a hard-played basketball game.

"You'll see a lot of energy, and if most of those young guys play well you'll see some pretty good basketball. Yet at the same time, obviously, it could get ugly."

Ugly will be fine for Clemson, as long as it comes attached to a win.

The Tigers need to win four of their final six regular season games in order to finish with a 15-14 record. That would ensure that even a first-round loss in the ACC tournament would still leave the Tigers at .500, making them eligible for the NIT.

But in a stretch in which the Tigers had hoped to pick up steam at home, they've lost three of their last four games - all at Littlejohn Coliseum.

Yet Purnell believes the team's confidence remains high, even as the wins remain elusive.

"It's (confidence) very important. You're always working on two fronts when you run into a stretch like this," he said." I've been through this before. You've got to work on the confidence side of things, but you also have to work on the improvement side of things.

"Having the guys recognize that they've played some pretty good basketball, and that they're capable, is important."


- This is the second game of a four-game four-year series between Clemson and Georgia. The 2005-06 game will be at Athens, and the 2006-07 contest will be at Clemson;

- Clemson is coming off a 83-77 loss to Miami (Fla.) last Saturday. Clemson held a 35-31 lead at intermission but lost the game. It was the fifth time this year Clemson has lost a game after leading at the half;

- Vernon Hamilton became the first player in Clemson history to record at least 50 steals as a sophomore and a freshman when he had two steals against Miami. He now has exactly 100 in 50 career games at Clemson;

- Clemson and Georgia have met on the hardcourt 76 times dating back to Jan. 31, 1913, when Georgia handed Clemson its first loss in history. Clemson had won its first seven games before the 75-15 loss to Georgia, still the second worst margin of defeat in Clemson history. This will be just the second regular season meeting since 1964-65;

- Georgia head coach Dennis Felton was an assistant at Clemson for four seasons (1994-95 through 1997-98) under Rick Barnes. Clemson went to an NIT and three NCAA Tournaments in Felton's four years at Clemson.

Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger and TigerNet. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.

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