Tired of how he felt his like his team was constantly getting the short end of the stick, Purnell exploded on the sidelines after an official didn’t rule that a flagrant foul on Clemson guard Cliff Hammonds had occurred in the closing minutes of Georgia Tech’s 80-62 victory Saturday at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Following the game, Purnell was both sorry and fed up.
“I apologized to our team for leaving them out there alone, but yet at the same time, enough is enough,” Purnell said. “We had the errors at Duke, an obvious no-call and walk that cost us the game against Virginia, and now in this game. … We’ve got excessive contact on a foul that should have been called that way and now we have (the missed backcourt call two possessions earlier), and my frustration just boiled over. …
“You’ve got to fight for your team. All we want is a fair shake.”
The ejection came with 2:42 left to play and Clemson trailed by 12, but Hammonds was set to go to the free throw line with a chance to cut the lead to 10. The momentum looked as though it was shifting toward the side of the Tigers when Purnell got the double technical.
But in reality, that didn’t cost the Tigers the game. Getting outrebounded 44-28 overall and 22-13 on the offensive end was to blame, as were the season-high 22 turnovers.
“That one play didn’t have anything to do with the rebounding or having no steals at halftime,” Clemson guard Vernon Hamilton said, who committed six turnovers and made just 4-of-12 shots. “It was just one play.”
The offensive rebounding by the Yellow Jackets looked as though they were going against a bunch of high schoolers. And in a sense, they were, at least height wise.
At one point in the game, Clemson center Trevor Booker, who stands just 6-foot-7, was the tallest Tiger on the court. At the same time, Georgia Tech’s smallest player was point guard Javaris Crittenton, who stands 6-5.
“They’re a tough matchup for most anybody,” Purnell said. “(6-8) Thaddeus Young is a bad matchup for any three-man, and they do post him up. He’s their leading scorer, and that’s the reason why.”
On this day, however, Crittenton, a freshman, was the leader for Georgia Tech (14-8, 3-6 ACC). He finished 26 points, six assists, five rebounds and seven steals. In his last four games prior to Saturday, he had combined to score 32 points with only eight steals.
He definitely likes playing the Tigers. In the two meetings this season, he’s scored 48 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, handed out 12 assists and had eight steals.
“They beat us the last time we played them,” Crittenton said. “They were coming into our house and we owed them. We were on a losing streak and needed to get this one.”
Clemson is a sort of a free fall, having lost five of its last six games to drop to 18-5 overall and 4-5 in the ACC.
“It feels like it’s slipping away,” said forward James Mays, who finished with 15 points, but only two rebounds. “But we have control of it. Are we going to keep letting it slip or are we going to stop the bleeding right here?”
Purnell, for one, is in this thing for the long haul. And he’s trying to make sure his team hasn’t given up, too.
“I’m going to fight for them and we’ve got to fight down to the stretch,” he said. “It’s a battle out here. … But as we come down the stretch, I want everyone to understand that Clemson basketball deserves a fair shake.”
CLEMSON PLAYER OF THE GAME:Trevor Booker
The freshman scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting and actually grabbed six rebounds, three of which were offensive. He also added one block. Booker was apparently one of only two players that got the message this week from Purnell to rebound better. The other was guard Cliff Hammonds, who had five boards.
TURNING POINT: Trailing 61-51, Clemson had the ball and momentum, but a missed 3-pointer by Hammonds from the left wing put a stop to that. Had he made it, the lead would have been cut to seven, but he missed and the Yellow Jackets scored on their next to possession and the lead was back up to 15. Moments earlier, Clemson had another chance to cut the lead to seven, but Hamilton fired up an air ball from the top of the key.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “It makes me feel good that he hasn’t given up on us,” Hammonds said on Purnell fighting for his team.