Clemson University

Tigers down Furman to open season

CLEMSON -- Tommy Bowden asked for an update on Clemson's basketball game as he exited the practice field Monday night.

Apprised that the Tigers were thumping Furman by 20 points at halftime, Bowden wished his team had amassed that wide a working margin when the two schools had met on the gridiron earlier this year.

By the time Bowden spit out that one-liner, Clemson had probably scored off another couple of turnovers.

The Tigers collected giveaways at a breakneck pace in their opener Monday night, consequently nearly doubling up Furman 91-46 in front of an announced crowd of 4,500 at Littlejohn Coliseum.

A week after coach Oliver Purnell cited creating a defensive identity as the team's next goal, Clemson stockpiled 37 turnovers -- tied for third-most in program history.

"It feels good to know our style of play works," freshman point guard Demontez Stitt said.

Four minutes were all that was needed to make that determination.

Using its full-court press to rack up quick scores, Clemson (1-0) bolted to a 17-0 lead and cruised thereafter to its 23rd consecutive win in a season-opener.

It also marked its 26th consecutive triumph against the Paladins (0-2) and tied Clemson's largest margin of victory in an opener since 1983-84.

Senior forward James Mays picked up where he left off at last season's end, wreaking havoc at the front end of the press to the tune of a career-high six steals.

Mays finished with a team-high 17 points in 20 minutes as the Tigers scored 49 of their points off turnovers.

Guard Cliff Hammonds added 14 points and five assists while Stitt tallied 12 points and four turnovers in his debut.

Clemson's 25 steals matched a program-high in Purnell's five seasons.

The last time they squeezed as many steals or forced turnovers was a 2004 win against Hampton. The Tigers tallied 47 turnovers against Appalachian State in 1974 and 38 turnovers at Purdue in 1973.

"We certainly took a step forward tonight," Purnell said. "If we can continue to build on this and start to form the habit of playing like that for longer stretches, I think it will be very beneficial to us."

Purnell left impressed with Clemson's unselfishness, reflected in its 26 assists in 39 baskets.

With expectations of an NCAA tournament berth set as the bar for the season, Mays said the Tigers were motivated to avoid the apathy or letdown that must have fueled losses by two top 25 teams (Kentucky and Southern California) to perceived lesser opponents last week.

"Everybody has been watching TV and seen the smaller schools have been upsetting the big ones," Mays said. "We wanted to come out and set the tone for our season quickly, and we did the job."