If the Tigers have dreams of findings their way into the NCAA Tournament this season, it's games like this they have to win. Victories over the Coppin States of the world don't do a whole lot to impress the selection committee.
"Anytime you get a win against a quality opponent – and I think this South Carolina team will be nationally ranked before the year is over – that's good for your resume," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "Just like going on the road in the Big 10 is good for your resume. The game has all kinds of implications. Generally it does, but it has a whole lot of implications."
The Gamecocks (5-1) come to Littlejohn Coliseum after putting together a nice run in the Great Alaska Shootout, where they lost in the championship game to Marquette in overtime.
And because South Carolina is expected to be pretty decent this season, a win for the Tigers (5-0) could be the difference between qualifying for the NCAA Tournament or once again settling for the NIT.
"Coach Purnell never lets us forget that this is one step (closer) to where we want to be," Clemson senior guard Shawan Robinson said. "Win this game and you see South Carolina in there for an NCAA berth, then it's one notch up on ours. It's never far from our minds that this could be a make-or-break NCAA game as early as it is in the season."
Playing in Clemson's favor is that the 4 p.m. game is at home, which should mean a home-court advantage. Even though the Tigers play plenty of games in Littlejohn, have the crowd advantage isn't always the case. "This is one of those games where it's packed and the atmosphere is amazing," he said.
But simply playing at home isn't going to be enough on its own to lead the Tigers to victory. They actually have to play well.
"I think it's a game that could come down to the wire and won or lost on the free throw line and the team that shoots the highest percentage," Purnell said. "Certainly the backboards are going to be big. Both teams have rebounded the ball well, but have shown in games that the boards can be a question mark."
Clemson sophomore forward Sam Perry believes the game is going to be determined by which is better, South Carolina's offense or the Tigers' defense.
"They've got a lot of great shooters, but the thing with that is we've got a lot of great defenders," he said. "We're going to have to actually get in their face and make them miss some shots. We can't let them catch fire."
Regardless of the outcome, one this is for certain. This game will be played with a high level of passion by both teams.
"It means a lot," Robinson said. "There's hatred, that Clemson-South Carolina hatred. It's a game stepped up in intensity. The Penn State game was intense, but it's probably one of the more intense games of the year. There's a lot of emotions involved."
Previewing South Carolina
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