Off and Running

CLEMSON – Since his arrival at Clemson five years ago, head coach Oliver Purnell has insisted that the basketball team's success would fall squarely on how well the defense performed night in and night out.

It's difficult to imagine the defense of the Tigers could play much better than it did in their opening game of the season as they forced 37 turnovers and had 25 steals in their 91-46 victory over Furman Monday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.

The number of forced turnovers by Clemson (1-0) is the third-most in school history, while the 25 steals ties the most by the Tigers under Purnell.

"If you can turn people over and turn those into baskets, that takes pressure off your offense," Purnell said.

And that's exactly what happened as the Tigers raced to a 17-0 lead in the opening 3:40 of the contest. It got only worse from there.

The defense had forced 12 turnovers in the opening eight minutes of the game. When it was all said and done, senior James Mays had a career-high six steals, while senior Cliff Hammonds added five of his own.

The Tigers also had 12 blocks, five of which came from sophomore Trevor Booker, who also had four steals.

"The problem was their full-court pressure," Furman coach Jeff Jackson said. "I don't think there was anything scientific about it. We just got rattled. It's not a real complicated process."

While the defense was in high gear, the offense was on cruise control as the Tigers shot 54.2 percent from the field.

The starting five of Clemson made 28 of its 46 field goal attempts as Mays led the way with 17 points. Cliff Hammonds scored 14, Demontez Stitt 12 and K.C. Rivers 11. Their shooting helped the Tigers build a 41-21 halftime lead.

What was most pleasing to Purnell was the fact that the Tigers moved the ball around and had 26 assists, five of which came from the Hammonds.

"Offensively, I thought we really played unselfishly," Purnell said. "We can build on this and turn this into a habit."

The freshman Stitt, who is a vital piece to Clemson's hope for an NCAA Tournament bid, at times looked his age as his four turnovers would indicate. But at other times, he appeared to be the player very capable of leading the Tigers to success.

Following the game, his teammates were very complimentary of the rookie's play. They are comfortable with him at the helm and show no signs of any sort of hesitation when he's in the game.

"Defensively, I thought I was alright," Stitt said. "On the offensive side of the ball, I just need to improve on careless turnovers." The other key freshman for the Tigers, sharp-shooting Terrence Oglesby wasn't so sharp as he was 0-for-5 from 3-point range. He finished with eight points.

Up next for Clemson is a very difficult game at Mississippi State Thursday night. The game will be televised at 8 o'clock on FSN.

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