No. 18 Clemson outscored Purdue 16-7 over the final 6:37, including the game’s final five points, to erase a six-point deficit and take the 61-58 victory Tuesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum in the ninth annual ACC-Big 10 Challenge.
Last season, it was the Tigers that went scoreless down the stretch. This time, they turned the tables without senior forward James Mays, who will find out Wednesday if he has a fractured hip.
“It’s definitely a sign that we’re maturing,” said Clemson senior guard Cliff Hammonds, who scored 12 points, had five assists, one block and three steals. “We lost a lot of games like this last year. But just because we won this one doesn’t mean that we’re going to win the next one. We’ve got to keep working hard every game.”
Clemson, which now holds a 7-2 record in the Challenge, was able to win the game despite absolute deplorable free throw shooting where the Tigers went 10-of-26 (38.5 percent).
“I’d like to think we’re a better team than we were two years ago,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “We didn’t have six or seven guys playing well, yet we were able to win.”
Ironically enough, Clemson was 7-of-19 (36.8 percent) from the 3-point range. The biggest shots from beyond the arc came from reserve David Potter, who came off the bench to score 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including 3-for-4 on 3-pointers.
“When I hit the first one, it felt good and gave me a log of confidence,” the sophomore said. “After that, I didn’t think about it and just shot.”
Purdue led 51-45 with 6:25 left to play, but that’s when the Tigers were starting their run to finish the game.
Clemson scored eight straight to take a two-point lead and after swapping a couple of baskets, the Tigers ripped off the final five points to get the win, including the go-ahead basket by guard K.C. Rivers with 31.2 seconds to play.
“When it went in, my eyes lit up like a Christmas tree,” he said. “I got real excited.”
Purdue (3-1) had a couple of shots in their final two possessions to tie the game, but none came close to going in.
Making the game more difficult for the Tigers was the fact that this was the first game they had to play without the services of Mays. The modification period extended well into the second half.
“Mays was a big miss and it was a big adjustment,” said Rivers, who led the team with 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. “It took a while for everybody to adjust without him.”
Even without Mays, the Clemson was still able to record 11 blocks to the Boilermakers’ zero. Purdue coach Matt Painter said the game shouldn’t have been as close as it was and that in reality, it really wasn’t.
“Clemson was more aggressive with their 11 blocks to nothing,” he said. “We were fortunate the missed their free throws. If they make them, we lose by 10 or 15 points. They also didn’t have James Mays, either, so you have to keep things in perspective.”
Note: Junior forward Julius Powell is AWOL from the basketball team. The coaching staff hasn’t spoken to or seen him since the day before Thanksgiving, when the Tigers played Presbyterian. Purnell said he had heard Powell was on campus and that he’s been trying to get in touch with him. It’s unknown whether the often injured Powell will return to the team.