Tigers Stay Undefeated in Littlejohn

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - Before embarking on a much-anticipated trip to Hawaii for a few days of sun and basketball, Clemson had work to do at home Friday night

Facing in-state rival The Citadel, the Tigers turned in a workmanlike 76-52 victory before an announced crowd of 5,100 at Littlejohn Coliseum. Fourteen players saw action for Clemson (7-1), 11 of them cracking the scoring column.

And while no thing of beauty, the win was the Tigers' fifth straight win overall. They remain perfect on the season (6-0) at Littlejohn.

"The mindset was pretty good to start with," Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said. "We had some difficulty staying with the focus...But when you look at what we want to get out of this game - we wanted to win, we wanted to play better, we wanted to get out of here without anybody being hurt - I can't be too displeased with that. I'll take it."

As they have on this recent run against smaller schools, the Tigers took advantage of their size. Clemson scored 38 points in the paint and beat the Bulldogs on the boards, 49-20. The Tigers' 20 offensive rebounds led to 17 second-chance points.

Sharrod Ford benefited most from the strategy, scoring a team-high 15 points and pulling down five rebounds in just 22 minutes of play.

All told, nine Tigers pulled down at least four rebounds. Freshman James Mays topped the list with seven.

"I thought our guys did a good job of administering our game plan from the start, and that was to go inside," Purnell said. "We continued to go to that every time The Citadel made a run. The thing that was really good was they played a zone (defense) most of the night, and to still get the ball down on the baseline, in the middle of the zone...that was a good thing."

Clemson used a 20-4 spurt through the middle portion of the first half to gain control, despite on-again, off-again struggles containing The Citadel (6-2) with its fullcourt pressure.

But the constant wave of fresh bodies - the Tigers had eight players see at least 17 minutes of action - eventually wore on the Bulldogs. The visitors committed 21 turnovers by game's end and at one point trailed by as many as 29 points (70-41).

Shawan Robinson was the only other Clemson player in double figures, finishing with 13 points. Cliff Hammonds had nine, while Akin Akingbala and Cheyenne Moore finished with seven each.

"We really need everyone to contribute, and it's good to see that contribution show up on the stat sheet," Purnell said. "If we're going to play this type of game, with this much energy every night, we're going to have to play nine or 10 guys every night. The fact that a lot of guys are getting good stats is a good indicator of the type of team ball we've been playing."

Donny McLendon topped The Citadel with 15 points, with Kevin Hammack adding 14 and J'mel Everhart 11.

After the game Clemson immediately boarded a bus and headed to Atlanta.

After spending the night there, the Tigers fly to Hawaii today for the three-day Rainbow Classic, which tips off Tuesday in Honolulu. Clemson opens the tournament at 10 p.m. EST Tuesday, facing tournament favorite the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

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