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Purnell Progress? .500 Season, Nit Bid

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

March 1, 2005

CLEMSON – In the grand scheme of things, Clemson's 97-93 victory at Maryland on Feb. 22 was not a big deal. It didn't merit even a blip on the national scene.

But at Clemson, it was a big deal. A very big deal.

Clemson's victory at College Park was meaningful for many reasons, but the biggest one was this: The Tigers won a game they had to have on the road in the ACC in February. That doesn't happen much.

Coincidentally, Clemson's victory at Maryland came on the 25th anniversary of the USA hockey team's victory over the Russians in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. Maybe coach Oliver Purnell, a former assistant at Maryland and a native of the state, gave a Herb Brooks-like speech to the Tigers before they took the floor at the Comcast Center.

Sure, the Tigers had to have the game partly in the inconsequential sense that they were trying to move out of the ACC basement. But completing the sweep of Maryland and then beating Florida State at home kept Clemson's NIT hopes alive. Making the NIT would be a big step for Purnell in his second year. The Tigers (14-13, 4-10) closed the regular season by hosting Virginia Tech, then traveling to Georgia Tech, needing a single win to guarantee a record of .500 or better coming out of the ACC Tournament.

What made Clemson's effort at Maryland even more surprising was the fact that the Tigers had one foot in the grave after taking their annual beating at North Carolina on Feb. 19 to drop their all-time record in Chapel Hill to 0-51. The Heels jumped on the Tigers from the start (14-1), Purnell received an early technical foul, and it was all downhill from there.

But somehow Purnell managed to rally his team one more time and win at Maryland, something Duke couldn't do in mid-February and UNC barely did at the end of the month.

There was no way to explain what happened. Clemson had not won at Maryland since 1996-97, the same season they last swept the Terps. Clemson shot 58 percent from the field and scored the most points it ever had scored in a regulation ACC game. Go figure.

"We made some big defensive stops, and (Sharrod) Ford led us," Purnell said. "Vernon Hamilton made three huge steals. We can go on and on about the big defensive stops. On offense, we made so many big shots. We made big plays. We weren't going to be denied tonight. I'm proud of the attitude coming off of Chapel Hill."

Against Maryland, Ford was the monster Clemson fans always have hoped he would become, with 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks. He was denied a triple-double on an errant goaltending call late in the game.

"I'm the team captain, so I had to put the team on my shoulders and lead us to victory," said Ford, a Maryland native. "We had to stay on them and keep the pressure on them. We had to stick together instead of breaking apart like we had done in previous games."

Clemson blocked 13 shots against Maryland, the most by the team since the Tigers blocked 16 shots against Radford in 1989-90. (The coach of that Radford team? Purnell.) In the two games against Maryland this season, Clemson trailed for a total of 11 seconds.

Purnell has stuck with three freshmen – forward Sam Perry, forward James Mays and guard Cliff Hammonds – in the starting lineup because the rookies are doing what they're supposed to be doing. They provide defense and energy from the start. The big surprise against Maryland was that Perry and Mays combined to score Clemson's first eight points.

"We start it as a defensive lineup, but when those guys lead us in scoring, it's a bonus. We kept the floor spread, and we had a good night attacking the press," Purnell said. "This victory is another step in the maturation process. Most of these players will be with us. We will point to this as experience. In the ACC, there's always the game within the game. Everybody has always got something to play for. We certainly have a lot to play for."

IPTAY, Ticket Prices Going Up

Apparently, mediocrity has a price.

The Tigers were just 6-5 last season, and they ended the campaign against archrival South Carolina with an embarrassing fight that received national attention. But mediocre football is not going to keep prices from rising.

Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips already has announced that ticket prices are going up. He just hasn't said exactly how much.

Now, letters are starting to circulate that IPTAY is going to raise its dues in certain categories.

Obviously, Clemson is trying to cash in on an attractive home schedule with four five-star games – Texas A&M, Miami, Boston College and Florida State – and raise desperately needed funds for the West End Zone project.

It's a gamble, of course. Raising prices will just make the fans' collective fuses that much shorter if the Tigers get off to another bad start in September.