Tigers come from behind to top 'Canes

Miami's James Dews tries to pass the ball against Clemson defenders James Mays and K.C. Rivers during the first half.
Miami's James Dews tries to pass the ball against Clemson defenders James Mays and K.C. Rivers during the first half.

CLEMSON -- Clemson's Cliff Hammonds had enough this season of giving up leads and losing games. So Hammonds made sure it didn't happen Wednesday night in a 79-69 win over Miami.

When Jack McClinton had put the Hurricanes ahead 60-59 with just under seven minutes left, wiping out all of Clemson's 21-point lead, Hammonds talked with his teammates.

"We just said on the sidelines, 'This wasn't going to happen to us again,'" Hammonds said.

Hammonds' followed moments later with the go-ahead jumper, then blocked McClinton's attempt to retake the lead as Clemson (20-7, 8-5) went to the victory, guaranteeing its first nonlosing season in the ACC in 11 years.

K.C. Rivers led the Tigers with 19 points. Hammonds had 12.

"It was a game of wills," Hammonds said. "They willed it back to a one-point lead. We just came and made the plays we needed to make."

Three of Clemson's losses have come by three points or less. Both defeats to No. 3 North Carolina came in overtime after the Tigers held the lead.

Just last month, Miami (19-8, 6-7) came from six points down in the second half for a 75-72 victory over Clemson.

Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said the season has prepared his club for games like this. "We've been in a lot of these and we've won our share," he said.

The latest victory could go a long way toward booking Clemson its first NCAA tournament spot since 1998.

It didn't look like it would take a nail-biting finish to win this one.

Clemson was ahead 33-12 in the first half and still led 43-28 with about 18 minutes left. But, behind leading scorer McClinton, the Hurricanes used a 32-16 surge to get back in it.

When McClinton swished a 3-pointer with 6:47 remaining, Miami had its first and only lead of the game, 60-59.

"Nobody hung their heads," Hammonds said.

Hammonds basket and block of McClinton put the Tigers back in control.

"I thought his blocked shot versus McClinton was the play of the game for us," Purnell said.

Rivers followed the block with two foul shots and a 3-pointer that put Clemson ahead 66-60.

Miami, which came in with a four-game win streak, could get no closer than four points the last five minutes.

McClinton said the Hurricanes got themselves in too big of a hole to make their run stick.

"You can't come into an ACC game not ready to play or they'll take it to you," McClinton said. "That's what Clemson did today."

It is only the second time in school history Clemson has had back-to-back 20-win seasons. The other time was in 1979-80 (23-9) and 1980-81 (20-11).

The Tigers have struggled to reach .500 in the ACC in the past decade. They hadn't bettered that mark since going 9-7 in 1996-97 under coach Rick Barnes, part of a streak of three straight NCAA tournament appearances.

But Barnes left for Texas following the 1997-98 season and Clemson hasn't reached the NCAAs since.

Clemson moved back into third place in the ACC and gets its first shot at a winning ACC season Sunday at Maryland. The Tigers finish with games at Georgia Tech and at home against Virginia Tech.

It's exactly the position Purnell wanted his team in. "We don't want to be begging and debating," Purnell said. "We control our destiny and we can tell our own story."

McClinton finished with 18 points, all but two in the second half. Dwayne Collins had 11 points and 10 rebounds for Miami, who hoped to reach 20 wins and give itself another solid win on its NCAA resume.

Miami coach Frank Haith says his club has three games left to reach .500 in the league, something he feels will lock up an NCAA berth.

Clemson shook off a disappointing loss and poor shooting night at Florida State in its last game more than a week ago. The Tigers had missed 24 of 27 3-pointers in their 64-55 loss to the Seminoles. This time, they made their first six from behind the arc and finished the game shooting 10-of-16 on 3s.

Clemson 79

Miami 69