Tigers Make Strides In Year Three
Oliver Purnell’s third season at Clemson came to an end on Monday night with a second round loss to Louisville in the NIT. Purnell’s team made the NIT for the second consecutive year, but it was a team that had hopes of an NCAA bid.
The season started off strong the Tigers were undefeated and headed to Athens, Georgia. Then word came that the Tigers’ best player, James Mays, was lost for the year due to academics. The Tigers promptly lost two straight to Georgia and Elon.
After the loss of Mays, not much was expected in ACC play minus Mays. The Tigers frontcourt was thin with Mays.
This team was not ready to be written off and develop a never say die attitude that is becoming a staple in Clemson athletics. The Tigers jumped out to a 2-1 start in ACC play with a thrilling overtime victory against Wake Forest.
A five-game losing streak in ACC play, where the Tigers lost heartbreakers at home to NC State and Virginia Tech, cost Clemson any hopes of NCAA bid.
Sitting at 3-8, the senior leadership of Akin Akingbala and Shawan Robinson took control of the team. The Tigers won four of last five games in the regular season to finish ACC play 7-9, the same conference record that put Rick Barnes in his first NCAA tournament as the Clemson coach.
Akingbala was the biggest surprise in the stretch run. He became a real presence in the low post, and now some even consider him a possible late second round pick in June’s NBA Draft.
The Tigers will lose Akingbala, Robinson, and Steve Allen, but a solid foundation will return. With another solid recruiting class coming in, improvement can be expected again in 2007 with an NCAA bid within sight.