Last season, the men’s basketball team at Clemson was plagued by turnovers. It could have been attributed to several factors, but mainly lack of a true experienced point guard. Coming into this season, it looked like Troy Mathis was ready to upgrade the point guard position. However, Mathis was suspended for an off-the-court incident, and the duties fell back to Vernon Hamilton. However, Cliff Hammonds has shown early on that he could be the center piece for what Coach Oliver Purnell is building.
Hamilton showed improvement at the end of last season in the ACC tournament, but it has been clear early on that Hammonds is the real deal. Last week, Hammonds was named Co-ACC rookie of the week after going for 14 and 17 points against Ohio State and South Carolina.
Hammonds put on a clinic Saturday night in Columbia in a showdown against Tre Kelley. Both players continued to make big shots to keep their teams in the game. Hammonds had the last laugh with a three pointer in overtime to tie the game at 60. Early in the game, the Tigers had no pulse offensively, and it was the true freshman that hit two three pointers to get the ball rolling. In front of near sellout crowd, Hammonds showed tremendous confidence to hit big shots on the road.
The young freshman has not only wowed fans with his perimeter shooting, but has proven to be a very good defender. Tony Stockman went for 16 points against the Tigers in the first half, then Hammonds guarded him for most of the second half and Stockman was limited to six points. Hammonds is a physical defender on the perimeter, that often will frustrate guards into turnovers. Turnovers on the perimeter equals easy transition points for the Tigers.
Not only has the Tiger backcourt improved on their outside shooting and turnovers, but they have made huge strides in transition defense. South Carolina had several fastbreak opportunities, but the Tigers backcourt was able to get back on defense and stop the break led by Hammonds. This took away several easy baskets from South Carolina and allowed the Tigers to stay in the game and later win in overtime.
The play of Hammonds has been a big reason that optimism is on the rise in Tigertown. The Tigers return to Littlejohn Coliseum Saturday night to face Charleston Southern at 7 pm.