CLEMSON – In the previous seasons, Clemson players said they wouldn’t have a letdown following a difficult loss and like clockwork, they would have one anyway. This time, Cliff Hammonds made sure they lived up to their word.
The senior guard from Cairo, Ga., scored 22 points and hit nearly every clutch shot for the Tigers as they went on to the easy 82-67 victory Thursday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.
The game was just the latest in stellar performances for Hammonds, who is averaging 21.75 points over his last four games. Not coincidently, Clemson is 3-1 during that stretch with an average margin of victory of 26 points.
“I can’t imagine anybody playing as well as he’s playing,” Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said. “A lot of the things he’s doing isn’t caught with the naked eye, and the naked eye is catching a lot of it. The one thing that the naked eye can’t see is his leadership.”
By winning, Clemson (18-6, 6-4 ACC) moves into a third-place tie with Maryland in the league standings.
“This was a live or die game,” said Tigers senior forward James Mays, who scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “Our dreams and hopes for the NCAA Tournament is right there.”
Right from the outset, Hammonds let it be known that Clemson wasn’t going to have a letdown. He scored 15 first half points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
“I’ve just been letting the game come to me,” he said. “I hit a couple of threes tonight and just got it going a little bit.”
As a result, the Tigers led by as many as 14 points in the opening half before going into intermission up 43-31.
And just in case there was any doubt going into the second half as two which team would be victorious, Clemson made a profound statement early, going on a 16-6 run to lead 61-39 with 11:48 to play.
As they say on local courts and playgrounds: Next.
“It was a big win for us tonight,” Purnell said. “I thought our team continued to play at a high level. ... We just kept the pedal to the metal and that was nice to see. We wanted to see our defense getting stickier and stickier as the game went on because we let up last time.”
The win by the Tigers snaps the three-game road winning streak for Georgia Tech (11-12, 4-5 ACC), which was led by Zack Peacock with 12 points, while Jeremis Smith added 10 points and nine rebounds.
“I thought Clemson came out with a great deal more energy than we did,” Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt said. “They made a concerted effort to keep the ball out of our point guards' hands and that really disrupted us.”
One reason Clemson had the big lead was because it actually made its free throws, 23-of-32, which is a major improvement from the 62.3 percent the Tigers averaged from there entering the game.
“I though it was obvious that we were confident at the line when the game was still in doubt,” Purnell said. “It was good to see us knock them down.”
Clemson freshman point guard Demontez Stitt came off the bench and provided a nice lift as he scored 13 points, including 5-of-6 from the free throw line, in just 16 minutes of play.
But the star of the night was Hammonds, who continues to be playing the best basketball of his Clemson career.
“He’s playing great,” Hewitt said. “He’s always been a player that I’ve liked. Defensively, he’s disruptive. The big thing is he made some big threes. It seemed like every time they needed to get a basket, he was the one who knocked it down.”