And as one might expect, the Panthers didn’t fully have the attention of Clemson, but when push came to shove, the Tigers spurted when they needed to and left Littlejohn Coliseum with a 67-57 victory Sunday afternoon.
“Our hard edge wasn’t as hard as it was against Georgia and the key is realizing that before it’s too late,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “We had to keep the attention of the players and keep them focused.”
At 14-0, Clemson remains just one of three undefeated teams left in nation. It is the program’s best start since the 1986-87 season.
“It probably wasn’t the prettiest game we’ve played all year long,” Purnell said. “I think it’s a very special thing to go 14-0 in non-conference. Not many teams do that. Our guys have showed up and played well in each and every single ball game.”
Though there wasn’t stellar play from start to finish, Clemson managed to play well and with some intensity when it needed to.
Leading just 34-29 with a little over 15 minutes to play, Tigers guard Cliff Hammonds stole an inbounds pass and laid it up at the other end for an easy hoop.
The very next possession for the Panthers ended when Clemson forward Trevor Booker blocked a shot to start a fastbreak the other way, which ended in a K.C. Rivers three-pointer from the left wing.
On the ensuing inbounds, Hammonds got another steal, drove to the rim and missed his shot, but to only have Booker grab it and slam it through with two hands to give the Tigers a 41-29 lead with 14:33 left to play.
“We live off our defense,” said Hammonds, who finished with 11 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block. “We had to kind of wake up. Georgia State’s not known for being a tough team, but the team we played tonight was tough.”
From there, the Tigers kept Georgia State (4-7) at arm’s length.
“We made some free throws and just kind of hung in there,” Purnell said. “I thought our ability to make some free throws allowed us to keep that working margin.”
Clemson, which entered the game making just 60.7 percent of its free throws, connected on 14-of-19 (73.7 percent).
To ensure they maintained their lead, the Tigers relied on their defensive pressure, as they have all year.
It worked, too, as the Panthers committed 20 turnovers, which led to 23 Clemson points.
“As we keep winning, the bull’s-eye on our chest keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Clemson forward James Mays. “Teams play their A-game against us here.”
While Mays struggled some offensively, Booker picked up the slack, scoring 15 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, while also getting three blocks, two steals and an assist.
“He definitely picked his game up today,” Purnell said. “We got him the ball and he had tremendous finishes.”
Up next for the Tigers is a trip to ACC foe Florida State, where they will be tested to no end.
“We played some ACC caliber teams, but the difference is we play them every night now,” Purnell said. “I would think versus Florida State we’ll have their attention. We will continue to remind them of the success, but keep them focused on what’s ahead.”