The never-say-die Tigers kept their once distant dreams going by getting a resounding 95-82 victory over Georgia Tech on Senior Day Saturday afternoon in front of a good crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum.
By getting the win, Clemson has won three straight and four of its last five to improve to 18-11 overall and 7-9 in the ACC. As a result, they have put themselves in position to possibly make the NCAA Tournament, provided they win at least two games in next week’s ACC Tournament.
“There’s really no progression as far as we’re concerned,” Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said. “We’ve never given up on that goal. It’s something that we’ve talked about from the beginning and we’ve never given up.”
Even though thoughts of the NCAA Tournament abound, it’s still a long ways from happening. Clemson has to win at least two games, and maybe three, in the ACC Tournament to get that at-large bid.
“If you win that first game, magic can happen, there’s no question about it,” Purnell said. “That’s what we’ve got to focus on, winning that first game in the tournament.”
Provided Clemson can pull off an upset or two, Purnell believes his team should definitely get an invitation.
“I think if we get two wins, they’ve got to take a hard look at us, I really do,” he said. “I think our league speaks for itself. We knock each other off and we shouldn’t be penalized for that. A team bangs around and hangs in there and finishes strong, to me, in our kind of league, if you finish strong that should count for an awful lot. That says what kind of team you are right now.”
If they come out at noon on Thursday and play the way they did against Georgia Tech (11-16, 4-12 ACC), the Tigers will no doubt have a chance to shock the basketball world.
Against the Yellow Jackets, Clemson shot 40 percent from three-point range and 54.8 percent overall from the field. It had three players with at least 22 points, which included two of the three seniors in Shawan Robinson and Akin Akingbala. Vernon Hamilton, who had a game-high 24 points, was the other.
That trio carried the Tigers to victory. They were a combined 25-of-40 from the field and scored 68 points.
Individually, Akingbala grabbed 11 rebounds, five of which came on the offensive end, while Hamilton became the school’s all-time steals leader by snaring four against the Yellow Jackets.
“With the momentum we have right now, there’s not even a word to use that can describe exactly how we feel,” Hamilton said. “We’re playing so well and so hard and we’re so confident right now. A lot of people started to count us out and not believe in us, but we’re turning heads right now. We’re really beginning to get noticed. …
“I think for a lot of teams, they’re concerned. To get Clemson at 12 noon on Thursday is not going to be easy.”
For his part, Robinson was hot as can be in the second half, where he scored 19 of his 22 points. It was three-pointer from the top of the key by Robinson following a steal to make it 78-71 with 4:55 remaining that ultimately did in Georgia Tech.
“They made some big shots, particularly Shawan Robinson,” said Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt. “He made the shot that really took the air out of us. …
“We talked about (guarding him) 10 feet past the three-point line. At 29 feet, you’ve got to be on him. You can’t back off of him. We literally put on the board, ‘10 feet beyond the 3 you’ve got to be on him.’ ”
At one point, the Yellow Jackets did back off of Robinson and he drilled about a 29-footer from the left wing.
Robinson’s shooting prowess was so good that during Hewitt’s press conference, somebody hit the light switch and caused it to go dark in the room. Without hesitating, Hewitt said, “Shawan’s still shooting, huh?” in reference to him shooting the lights out.
“It seemed like once I knocked one down, where ever I was, I could see the basket and it was going in,” Robinson said. “If I get it going, I don’t think Coach Purnell has a problem with me shooting (from very deep).”
Even with all the recent success, Hamilton still has a hard time shaking those three overtime losses that seemed like guaranteed wins.
“They’re not easy to forget about,” he said. “I think about them. And you think, wow, if we had three more of those right now, you’d say we’d be a lock for the Tournament. But you know, nothing in life comes easy. But we’ve clawed back and right now, we’re ready to fight.”