The Tigers played good defense, offense and displayed the type of passion and energy that helped them become the last undefeated team in the nation in their 89-68 dismantling of Mississippi Monday night in front of 3,650 at Littlejohn Coliseum in the second round of the NIT.
“We sustained our efforts longer tonight,” Clemson guard Cliff Hammonds said. “Tonight, I think we sustained that effort for 30 to 35 minutes instead of the 10 to 15 minutes we did against East Tennessee State (in the first round).”
As a result of the win, the Tigers (23-10) will host Syracuse (24-10) Wednesday night. The time has yet to be determined.
“I said we were going to have to play better than we did against ETSU to beat Mississippi and we did,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “We’re going to have to play better than we did tonight to beat Syracuse.”
That will be extremely difficult to do.
There were so few areas of bad or even average play Monday night that should the Tigers play better, odds are they will beat the Orange by 30.
* Hammonds scored all 18 of his points in the first half to carry Clemson as it struggled early to hold onto the ball and score points. He is also the person that sparked the Tigers’ 14-1 run to close the half by hitting two 3-pointers and lead Clemson into the locker room up 46-35.
“Cliff has been solid all year long,” Purnell said. “You’re talking about a guy that goes under the radar as far as All-ACC is concerned. That was a quiet 18. We weren’t executing great and he just carried us. In the second half, he just guarded.”
* Clemson freshman forward Trevor Booker was 8-of-9 from the field and scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half. He also had seven rebounds, four offensive, four assists, three steals and two blocks.
“His end of the season is going (up),” Purnell said. “And that’s very unusual for a young kid.”
* Senior point guard Vernon Hamilton made five baskets, pulled in five rebounds, dished out five assists and also had five steals.
“So many guys stepped up and played big tonight,” Hamilton said. “When you have as many guys play as good as we did tonight, games like this are going to happen.”
* For one of the first times in nearly a month, the Tigers got the sort of bench play they’ve hoping for. Forwards Sam Perry and Raymond Sykes combined to play 23 minutes and produce 10 points, seven rebounds, three blocks, two assists and one steal.
“They were just ready to go,” Purnell said. “I can’t think of one guy that didn’t come out with energy.”
* The Tigers trapped their way into forcing 24 turnovers by Mississippi (21-13), which is a season high. Those turnovers led to 23 points for the Tigers.
“I think you saw that defensively we’re not a very good defensive team,” Rebels coach Andy Kennedy said. “But the one stat that has allowed us to win 21 games is that we take care of the basketball. Tonight, they overwhelmed us.”
TIGERS PLAYER OF THE GAME: Trevor Booker
The freshman forward scored a career-high 21 points, while grabbing seven rebounds, four of which were offensive. He was 5-of-6 from the free throw line, while also handing out four assists, grabbing three steals and compiling two blocks.
TURNING POINT: With Mississippi leading 34-32 with 4:01 left to play in the opening half, the Tigers went on a 14-1 run to close the half. Of those 14 points, six came off of Cliff Hammonds 3-pointers, while forward James Mays added five of his own. Clemson then opened the second half on a 6-0 to put the game on ice.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “The tournament is on now. Both teams want to get to New York,” said Clemson coach Oliver Purnell on the upcoming game against Syracuse Wednesday night.