This time, however, the game-tying three-pointer bounded off the left-front portion of the rim and fell harmlessly to the floor to give Clemson 69-66 victory over Mississippi State Tuesday night in a fairly empty Littlejohn Coliseum.
In that exact same situation last year, the Tigers (6-0) lost three games. In those losses, the opposition hit the tying three-pointer at the buzzer and went on to win in overtime.
“It never crossed my mind,” Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said of having flashbacks to last season.
However, the same can’t be said for Tigers point guard Vernon Hamilton, who stood at the free throw line with 4.2 seconds left, with Clemson holding a precarious 68-66 lead.
“I wanted to be the person to go to the line,” the senior said. “Last year, I didn’t have a chance to be in that situation. I wanted the game on my shoulders.”
Hamilton calmly sank the first one to give the Tigers a three-point lead. However, the second one rimmed out to give the Bulldogs (2-2) one final shot.
Mississippi State’s leading scorer on the season, Jamont Gordon, came down the court in a rush and jacked up a 30-footer with Clemson forward Sam Perry in his face. The shot was never really close.
“We worked on that situation a lot during the preseason,” said guard Cliff Hammonds, who led the Tigers with 20 points. “He had a 30-foot shot and we were on him. Last year, they had open shots.”
The win over Mississippi State could be one of those type of victories that is viewed as a “quality win” by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
The Bulldogs are definitely the type of squad bubble teams have to beat.
“Anytime you beat an SEC team, because of their strength of schedule, it helps,” Purnell said.
Oddly enough, even though the Tigers got the win, Purnell wasn’t exactly thrilled with the way it came about. He didn’t like a lot of the offensive and defensive execution.
“I was very pleased with our win, but not particularly how we got it,” he said. “I saw a lot of impatience tonight as far as taking long jump shots that didn’t need to be taken and weren’t well thought out. There were a lot of ill-advised shots tonight.
“I didn’t feel like they were stopping us. I felt like we were stopping ourselves.”
But one aspect where the Tigers actually showed improvement came at the free throw line, where they were 17-of-23. The 17 made are a season-high.
However, the three-point shooting wasn’t there, especially in the first half, when the Tigers were just 1-of-10.
Even so, they played just good enough to win, which is all that matters.
“There will be nights when we don’t play well,” Purnell said. “It’s a sign of a pretty good team when we can go out there and not play our best and still get the win.”