Tigers Rally in OT

CLEMSON – As the fans stormed the court for the second time, Vernon Hamilton was lifted into the air by his adoring supporters, where he promptly pumped his fist toward the rafters in an outburst of celebration.

With that not being good enough, Hamilton went to press row and stood on the tables, where he pulled at his shirt with both hands to spotlight the his school's name brandished across his chest (known as popping).

And why shouldn't he? After all, he scored 21 points and what proved to be the game-winning basket with 49.9 seconds left in overtime to give Clemson the 74-73 overtime victory over Wake Forest Wednesday night in front of a somewhat disappointing crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum.

"It felt so good because that was a win that wasn't determined in regulation," Hamilton said. "It showed that we're capable of fighting and coming back and winning these games."

After Tigers guard Cliff Hammonds missed the front end of a one-and-one, Wake Forest (11-4, 0-2 ACC) had a shot to win it in overtime with 13 seconds left.

The Demon Deacons' Trent Strickland brought the ball into the frontcourt out of control and eventually found himself stuck 17 feet away from the hoop with no one to pass it to. With the clock running down, he threw up a wild shot that Clemson forward Steven Allen blocked out of bounds to seemingly end the game, which caused the fans to storm the court.

But after reviewing the play, the officials determined that there were still five-tenths of a second still left to play. An attempt to lob the ball toward the hoop was thwarted by the Tigers' K.C. Rivers to really end the game and send the fans back onto the court.

Clemson now improves to 13-3 overall and 2-1 in the ACC, with its next game being against Duke Saturday afternoon at Littlejohn Coliseum.

"We obviously have two big ballgames this week against top 25 opponents and to get the first one puts you in a position to have at it in the second one as opposed to now you have Duke coming in here and you can lose three-in-a-row," Purnell said. "I think one of the biggest things playing in tough conferences is if you can avoid losing streaks, you're going to be OK."

That last possession by Wake Forest was a microcosm of the way the night went for each team.

Clemson's on-the-ball pressure defensively was some of the best it's been all season as the Demon Deacons committed 22 turnovers and had 10 shots blocked.

Leading the way in the blocked shot category was little used, 6-foot-9 freshman Raymond Sykes, who hadn't stepped on the floor since Clemson's trip to Puerto Rico in December.

In 15 minutes of action, Sykes had three blocked shots, a rebound on each end of the floor and a steal. Fellow freshman forward Julius Powell, who got his first start of the season, had two blocks of his own.

They provided the spark that Clemson has lacked since it was determined forward James Mays was academically ineligible.

"(Sykes) was outstanding, there's no question about it," Purnell said. "Sometimes you're not as smart as you think you are. I didn't think he was really ready … and when James wasn't here, we didn't go with him right away and maybe I should have. You never know."

And even though Wake Forest's Justin Gray scored a game-high 27 points, Tigers guard Cliff Hammonds and his fellow backcourt mates pestered him all night. So much so that Gray was just 7-of-19 shooting and committed seven turnovers, four of which came in the final 30 seconds of regulation and overtime.

The Demon Deacons led 66-63 with 31.9 seconds left in regulation when Gray fumbled the ball off his leg and out of bounds on the inbounds pass, which set up a dramatic shot by Hammonds.

Hammonds, who scored 21 points, took the ensuing inbounds pass in the left corner, stepped back and drilled a three-pointer to tie it at 66-66 with 28.1 seconds left to play.

Wake Forest had a shot to win it, but Gray was called for a five-second violation, which gave the ball back to the Tigers with 12.8 remaining. Clemson mustered a desperation three-pointer by Rivers, which was long and to the left and eventually fell to the floor to force overtime.

"Guys just make plays," Purnell said. "There was pressure on the offensive team and they turned it over and then you've got to make the shots and that's what happens in these great games and great leagues."

One of the downsides to Clemson's night was the way Demon Deacons star forward Eric Williams dominated the glass. By halftime, he tied his career high in rebounds with 14 and by game's end he had 20 and as a team, they had 16 more. Williams also finished with 22 points.

The other was the spotty shooting, but that's going to be an ongoing thing for the Tigers. Nevertheless, it was still a total team win for Clemson.

"The guys kind of followed our game plan and our road map to try and beat Wake Forest," Purnell said. "We certainly wanted to apply pressure because they've struggled with that some during the course of the year … and generated some offense from our defense. I thought we followed our game plan to a tee."

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