Newcomers Cliff Hammonds, Cheyenne Moore, Sam Perry and James Mays, while still somewhat raw, displayed the kind of talent and enthusiasm offensively and defensively that was sorely lacking last season for the Clemson basketball team.
Couple those four with the white-hot outside shooting of junior guard Shawan Robinson and the workman-like effort from point guard Vernon Hamilton and it resulted in a record-setting 98-54 route of Hampton in the season opener for both teams Friday night at a sparsely filled Littlejohn Coliseum.
The Tigers (1-0) set a new team record with 25 steals, which breaks the old mark of 20 set twice, with the latest coming against Western Carolina in 1998. While not a record, Clemson forced the Pirates (0-1) into 37 turnovers, which led to 44 Tigers points.
"I was pleased for the opening game with our energy on the defensive end of the floor," said Clemson coach Oliver Purnell. "The energy and aggressiveness was tremendous."
The game wasn't as close as the score indicated.
The 37 turnovers were the most forced by a Clemson team since Purdue committed 38 in 1973. The most turnovers the Tigers forced last year was 20. They surpassed that mark in the first half with 21 forced turnovers.
What makes the steal record and score even more impressive was the fact that there was at least one freshman on the court every single minute of the game, and in the end they combined to score 39 points, grab15 rebounds, had out 10 assists and get eight steals.
"In practice everyday, we're expected not to be freshmen," Moore said. "We're expected to be ready now."
Boy, were they ever. At one point during the first half, all four freshmen and Hamilton, a sophomore, were on the court.
"That was wild," Hamilton said. "I'm so used to being the youngest guys on the court. But the way it molded together, it kind of surprised me. I'm very impressed with the way the freshmen played. That had a lot they had to live up to."
Not to be outdone, however, was Robinson, who finished with a game- and career-high 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including 6-of-7 from 3-point range. In the first half, Robinson was a perfect 6-of-6 from beyond the arc and had 22 points.
"They were finding me on the wings and I was just able to knock them down," Robinson said. "We jumped on them and never let up."
But the story this night was the freshman and how they helped managed to secure the outcome in the first half by forcing the Pirates into 21 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
During that first half, Clemson scored on 17-of-21 possessions to increase its lead from 9-7 with 17:35 left, to 45-13 with 7:25 remaining. In fact, the Pirates went more than 10 minutes without a field goal.
Of those possessions during the run in which the Tigers scored, all but 10 of the 36 points came from either free throws or from within four feet of the basket.
During that same stretch, Hampton committed 15 turnovers.
As a result, Clemson held a 57-26 lead at the half.
"I think it was a confidence boost," Purnell said. "But we have to guard against getting carried away."
Midway through the second half, the lead by the Tigers got as high as 50 points at 83-33 and cruised from there.
On a bad note, Tigers forward Steve Allen reinjured his left shoulder with 12:51 left in the game. He was taken immediately to the locker room for evaluation.
He returned the bench with a massive icepack on his shoulder.
Clemson returns to the court at 7 p.m. Tuesday night with a home game against UNC-Asheville.
"We can't worry about what the name on the jersey says," Moore said. "We can't worry about if it says Hampton or North Carolina. We have to play this same way every game."
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