Tigers Escape Air Force; Advance to Finals
Cliff Hammonds
Cliff Hammonds
Posted Mar 27, 2007

NEW YORK – It’s not surprising that Clemson guard K.C. Rivers made some big shots down the stretch. After all, he is the team’s leading scorer. But David Potter? What’s up with that?

Potter, a freshman forward who entered the game having made just 6-of-40 3-point attempts on the season, hit nothing but net from the right baseline with the shotclock winding down that put the Tigers up 10 with 2:12 left to play.

It turned out that his three, and the free throws and 3-pointers made by Rivers over those final minutes gave Clemson a 68-67 victory over Air Force late Tuesday night in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament in Madison Square Garden.

The Tigers (25-10) advance to play West Virginia (26-9) 7 p.m., Thursday for the championship. And thanks to Potter and Rivers, they have a chance to bring home their first-ever NIT title.

Potter’s shot comes on the heels of his big play against Syracuse, when he followed up a missed shot for a tip-in, again as the shotclock buzzer was sounding. Tigers coach Oliver Purnell called it the play of the game.

“(My shooting) has been terrible,” Potter admitted. “But I think the Syracuse game gave me the confidence to take the shot. I was just ready.”

What was even more astounding with the play was that senior point guard Vernon Hamilton had a chance to pass it to Rivers, who had a game-high 19 points, 16 of which came in the second half.

But instead, Hamilton faked the pass to Rivers and threw it to Potter, who was standing all by himself in the right corner.

All he did was catch and shot it perfectly.

“He’s made two big plays,” Purnell said. “That’s a great example of preparation.”

Rivers, who was just 1-for-5 in the first half, was 5-for-6 in the second, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range. Two of his biggest threes came after Air Force had erased a 15-point lead to tie it at 51 with 8:36 left to play.

After a Trevor Booker hook shot, Rivers hit a three from the left wing with 5:54 remaining and then followed it up a few possessions later with a three from the top of the key to give the Tigers a 61-53 lead with 3:40 to play.

“The first half, I was pretty much in a slump,” Rivers said. “In the second half, I found my rhythm and started knocking down shots. I was just in a rhythm. I had confidence and took my time to shoot.”

Even with a 10-point lead following Potter’s three, Air Force was able to make a charge by making threes and having Clemson commit turnovers and missing foul shots.

With 4.5 seconds left, the Tigers led by four, but Dan Nwaelele stole the inbounds pass and hit a three with 1.2 seconds remaining to give the Falcons one last glimmer of hope.

But Potter took the inbounds pass and dribbled out the clock to send Clemson to the finals, where it will have a chance to capture its first-ever national title and its second postseason since 1939.

“It would mean a lot to me because it would kind of get this bitter taste out of my mouth from everything that’s happened before,” Rivers said. “Plus, bring something back to Clemson that hasn’t been done before.”

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