Clemson University

Tigers bounce back, pound Yellow Jackets

CLEMSON -- Oliver Purnell must have handed out The Chaser pills with the pre-game Gatorade.

There was no evidence of the big game hangover on Thursday.

Clemson overwhelmed Georgia Tech 82-67 to rebound from an emotionally crushing double-overtime loss at North Carolina the last time out, resting all concerns about whether the Tigers could put yet another too-close defeat to the Tar Heels behind them. Considering when Clemson lost a gut-wrencher to UNC on Jan. 6, unheralded Charlotte breezed out of Littlejohn Coliseum with an 82-72 win three days later, it was a pertinent question.

But there were no worries this time. Clemson (18-6, 6-4 ACC) got 22 points from Cliff Hammonds and never trailed in snapping the Yellow Jackets' string of three straight league road wins.

"We continue to play at a high level," Purnell said. "It just kind of sets us up for another big ballgame in a short period of time."

Even with the win never in doubt, Purnell took no chances by calling a quick timeout whenever Tech mounted any kind of run. His message was simple each time -- calm down, don't get rattled, remember there's still a more-than-comfortable lead.

It worked each time, Clemson usually responding with an inside bucket or a defensive play. Purnell kept reminding the Tigers not to rest on any lead, not after an 11-point advantage with three minutes to go at UNC turned into that stupefying double-OT loss.

"It established what I wanted," Purnell said. "We're past that, moving on, looking forward. Getting back to the level of play where we want to be."

Demontez Stitt also seemed 100 percent after returning from minor knee surgery. Stitt played 21 minutes against UNC and ended up fouling out with 13 points, but against Tech, the freshman seemed his usual fearless self.

Stitt didn't show any lack of mobility, flashing inside for some of his 13 points and bumping and running in the lane against Jackets forward Jeremis Smith. Hammonds started at the point and will probably continue to do so since the lineup has been working so well, but Stitt's full health is another boon for the Tigers as they seek to have everybody playing their best at the end.

The Tigers attempted 14 free throws in the first half after just 19 combined attempts in their last three games. They made 11, giving them a quick advantage in a heavily fouled contest.

Clemson then padded the lead with a hot shooting night, draining 51 percent of its field goals while Tech (11-12, 4-5) struggled to get anything to fall. The Jackets, who had won four of their past six, shot just 36.7 percent in the first half and never got leading scorer Anthony Morrow into a groove, the senior finishing with seven points.

Tech's highlight came with 10:42 to play, when Matt Causey threw a 25-foot alley-oop to Smith, who finished with a nasty dunk. Since it only cut the Tigers' lead to 20, it was a lapse Clemson could afford.

The win also gave Clemson an extra jolt of confidence heading into another two-game road stretch. The Tigers whipped Boston College at home before splitting with Virginia and UNC before Thursday, so the goal against N.C. State on Saturday and Florida State on Tuesday is to do a little bit better.

Not that Clemson's got a whole lot of choice. The Tigers' record is getting closer to being impressive enough for the NCAA tournament selection committee, but with only two more home games the rest of the way, a half-and-half slate from here on out might leave them hanging.