CLEMSON – As the top reserve shooting guard off the bench, Shawan Robinson was averaging just a little over 24 minutes a game. However, with the announcement that starting point guard Vernon Hamilton was out with an injury, it was understood that Robinson’s role and playing time was about to increase.
He wasn’t going to be running around screens and looking for 22-foot shots. Instead, he was going to have to do his best Hamilton impersonation and run the entire offense as smoothly as possible.
And for a team that had lost five in a row, playing without its starting point guard seemed like certain defeat. But Robinson didn’t disappoint and turned in one of his best games of the season to lead the Tigers to an 89-77 victory over Maryland Tuesday night in front of a poor showing at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Robinson finished with a game-high 24 points, dished out five assists and had four steals in a whopping 37 minutes of playing time.
“At the end of the game, I was tired,” Robinson said. “I wasn’t use to it to get up and down like that. But I think the whole team stepped up as a whole.”
The entire night, Robinson was in control. In pressure situations, he called for the ball. He pointed to where guys were supposed to be on the floor, while at the same time playing extremely hard defensively.
He was extremely assertive and confident and was a key factor in the Tigers' 19-1 run early in the second half, which gave them the lead for good.
There was never a doubt he could lead Clemson (15-10, 4-8 ACC) to victory.
“I just felt in control,” Robinson said. “There’s nothing like having the ball in your hands. I think our team is very good when Vernon has the ball in his hands, but I don’t think I did too bad of a job filling in for him.”
His play caused head coach Oliver Purnell to say Robinson was “outstanding.” His fellow teammates agreed.
“We wish we had Vernon, but we’re not going to pout over the fact that Vernon is hurt,” said center Akin Akingbala, who had another stellar game with 14 points and 13 rebounds. “He’s somebody we need to have back real soon. But Shawan is a very good player and he did a very good job from the point today.
“He really controlled the offense by getting the ball where it needed to be. He did a lot of good things tonight and we’re proud of him. We hope it continues that way.”
Robinson, though, is right. It was a total team effort. The Tigers forced 26 turnovers, made 12-of-28 from three-point range and sank 14-of-18 free throws in the final 8:07 to secure the win.
For the game, Clemson also nailed 25-of-33 free throws.
Even guard Cliff Hammonds got into the act. Hammonds, who had been struggling like nobody’s business, was 6-of-12 from the field to score 17 points.
It was good enough to lead Clemson to its fourth straight victory over the Terrapins (15-9, 5-6 ACC).
“It’s probably something to be proud of,” Purnell said. “They’re an outstanding program, they’ve won the national championship, they’ve been to the Final Four, they’ve won the ACC Championship with all of this in the last four years or so.
“They beat us 13 straight times before that started, so it’s an accomplishment. We’ll take any accomplishment we can get.”
Conversely, Maryland head coach Gary Williams lived up to his reputation as being surly and bitter.
Following the game, he threw out excuses of missing and injured players for the loss and turnovers.
“What do you think? What do you think?” Williams said when asked why his team committed so many turnovers. “Clemson’s defense and our bad ball handling. That’s what it is.”
That’s when he brought in the injured and sick player explanation.
“We’re missing one of our best defenders in Chris McCray,” Williams said. “He was averaging 16 points a game, he’s our leading scorer, and we had two guards sick tonight. D.J. Strawberry was sick, that’s why I had to take him out with three minutes to go in the game. He was almost throwing up on the bench, and then Mike Jones had cramps all of the second half.”
Never mind the fact that Clemson was without Hamilton, forward James Mays, the leading rebounder and one of the best players, and Troy Mathis, who the Tigers were counting on heavily this year.
Williams continued by snapping at nearly every question. When this reporter asked if he was surprised of all the teams in the conference that it would be Clemson with a four-game winning streak over him, he barked back once again.
“We won 13 in a row against them,” he said. “Last year they got us three times and we only play them once this year and they got us. They played better than us tonight, so it doesn’t surprise me that they beat us.”
The difference is Purnell never used excuses during his team’s tough losses. He pointed the finger at the players, not the situation.
“Our team has been resilient all year long,” Purnell said. “They do a great job of listening to what we tell them in terms of the glass is half full instead of empty and that there’s opportunities out there to do all of the things that we’ve talked about all year long with goals. We were telling them that we were right there and apparently they believed us. …
“I do feel that this could be an opportunity for us to get going. There’s not a game on our schedule that we can’t win, but none of them are easy. When you look at it that way, there’s no reason to throw up your hands and give up because we’ve got plenty of opportunities left.”