Babalola's Play Critical for Clemson

Senior forward just needed a little time off.

Turns out some time off was good for Olu Babalola.

Clemson coach Oliver Purnell had suspended the 6-6 senior for conduct detrimental to the team following an outburst at practice two weeks ago. After sitting out two games, Babalola made his return against Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and came back with a renewed vigor.

He was arguably the difference in the game, scoring 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench in an 80-73 Tigers' win. He knocked down four of six free throws in the final 26 seconds to preserve Clemson's most important win so far.

"From my standpoint, I didn't want to give off negative energy," he said. "I just wanted to be more aggressive on offense, but I didn't want to force things. I'm not expecting to score big every night."

A talented small forward, Babalola is a key piece on a deeper and more athletic Tiger team in Purnell's second season at the helm. If Clemson can get quality play out of the young backcourt -- mainly sophomore point guard Vernon Hamilton and junior shooting guard Shawan Robinson -- the Tigers could surprise some folks this year.

Up front, 6-9 senior Sharrod Ford looks more muscular and more comfortable working the baseline as 6-9 junior Akin Akingbala takes on a larger role in the pivot. Freshman forward Cliff Hammonds stepped in for Babalola and performed admirably with 13.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in Clemson's 3-1 start. Another freshman, Cheyenne Moore got the start at small forward against Ohio State before giving way to Hammonds, who had 14 points and six rebounds off the bench.

With Ford and Babalola the program's only seniors, and a solid freshman class in place, Clemson's basketball future has rarely looked so bright. No surprise then that earlier this week Purnell was rewarded with a two-year contract extension, taking him through the 2010-11 campaign.

* Senior forward Sharrod Ford scored 20 points and had 10 rebounds in the win over the Buckeyes, appearing in his 90th consecutive game, the Tigers' longest current streak.

* Olu Babalola went over 500 points in his career with his 17-point effort against Ohio State.

* Shawan Robinson ranks among the ACC leaders with 3.75 3-pointers made per game and a .714 shooting percentage behind the arc. Top Stories