Tigers Fall to Elon

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON --- With 2:59 to play Friday, Clemson’s Vernon Hamilton looked up at the scoreboard and just shook his head. At the time, Hamilton and the Tigers trailed visiting Elon University by 10 points – very little changed after that.

Behind the play of Colin Wyatt, the Phoenix stunned Clemson 74-69, sending the Tigers into ACC play with a two-game losing streak. It was Elon’s first victory against a Division I opponent.

“It was more so of a disbelief thing,” Hamilton said about glancing up at the scoreboard with 2:59 left. “We shouldn’t have been in a game like this with them.”

Clemson, still smarting from its loss to Georgia on Wednesday, was lucky to even be in the game with Elon. It was obvious the Tigers were pressing their shots all night and fell behind 69-57 with 3:07 to play. It was the biggest deficit Clemson trailed by all season.

“I think we just didn’t bring it the entire night,” Hamilton said. “I can’t really put my finger on one time that I felt we were all over them and attacking them.”

Instead, Elon was doing all the attacking. The Phoenix (3-9) came in with a “what do we have to lose mentality” and played more physical and stronger than a Clemson team which had to this point dominated its opposition inside the paint.

“Our big guys weren’t intimidated,” said Elon head coach Ernie Nestor. “We played against big guys before. The two areas where I was concerned were that we wanted to be under 15 turnovers, and to hold Clemson to less than 10 offensive rebounds.”

Elon was good on two of those goals. The Phoenix handled Clemson’s pressure defense well, finishing the game with just 14 turnovers, and while they did keep Clemson off the offensive glass, they did force the Tigers to shot a woeful 35.9 percent from the floor.

“I don’t think we were physical or mentally sharp tonight,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said.

The Tigers appeared lost inside without the presence of power forward James Mays, who was declared academically ineligible earlier this week. Clemson aggressive nature on the boards and on defensive end was missing without Mays’ presence. Hamilton said they have to learn to move on without Mays, who averaged 9.6 points and 7.3 rebounds a game.

“This is definitely a game we should have won without Mays,” he said. “We are going to be faced with games the entire year without Mays… We have to role without him. We have to keep moving.”

Without Mays inside, Elon’s big men resembled Duke’s Sheldon Williams than an Elon program which was struggling to get any offensive consistency. Wyatt, Jackson Atoyebi and Chris Chalko scored 42 of the Phoenix’s 74 points, with Wyatt leading the way with 15 points.

Clemson’s last lead on the night came on a Shawan Robinson 3-pointer with 10:40 to play which at the time gave the Tigers a 52-51 lead. Brian Waters, who scored 11 points off the bench, quickly put Elon back on top with a three from the left corner with 9:46 to go. Elon never again trailed.

“We had enough tonight,” Nestor said. “We had enough. It was a great night for Elon basketball.”

The Phoenix had four players in double-digits overall, including 15 from guard Montell Watson, whose two free throws with 41.6 seconds to play pretty much sealed the Tigers fate. Elon had beaten just Southeastern College out of Lakeland, Fla. and Guilford, a Division II program, before beating Clemson on Friday. Elon was 313 out of 337 Division I teams in the Sagrin ratings heading into the game.

“I’m really disappointed in the way we played tonight,” Purnell said. “We’re not very good right now. But we have four days to get back to playing Clemson basketball.”

And when the Tigers get back, they will open ACC play Jan. 4 against Florida State at Littlejohn Coliseum.

Clemson was led by Hamilton’s 13 points, while Akingbala added 12 points and eight rebounds in the loss.

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