NIT: Tigers Survive And Advance

CLEMSON – When the term "survive and advance" was first used in discussing tournament basketball, Clemson's game against Louisiana Tech night was exactly what they envisioned.

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And while it was very difficult to tell which team actually survived, a team did advance as the Tigers took a 69-53 victory against La. Tech in the first round of the NIT Tournament Wednesday night in front of a small crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum.

It was the team's first postseason tournament win since 1999, when Clemson reached the NIT finals. Up next for the Tigers is likely a game at Louisville Monday night. The Cardinals play Delaware State Friday night.

"I thought it was a major step forward to get a first-round home game and get the win and advance," Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said. "To advance in postseason play, we'd like to continue to build on that resume."

The game was ragged, poorly played and sometimes very difficult to watch. It was so bad that at halftime, the Bulldogs had 16 points and 15 turnovers. Clemson only had 30 points because of nine turnovers and a 4:45 scoring drought.

"Their defense really overwhelmed us in the first 10 minutes of the game in the half court," La. Tech coach Keith Richard said. "We really haven't see that since we played Memphis."

Even with the pressure, Clemson found it hard to generate much of an offense.

"I don't think we played our best basketball," Purnell said. "But I thought we played well in stretches."

One area where Clemson (19-12) excelled surprisingly enough came at the free throw line, where 20-of-25, including 15 in a row over the final 4:39.

If Louisiana Tech had any shots of winning, its coach Keith Richard knew a stat like that couldn't happen.

"They're worse than us and we're bad," he said. "They made all the ones that counted."

After building an 18-point lead with 10:21 left to play, the Clemson offense literally came to a halt, which allowed the Bulldogs (20-13) to creep back into the game.

The Tigers went more than seven minutes without a field goal and in no time at all, they led just 51-43 with 4:30 left to play.

But point guard Vernon Hamilton scored 10 of his 14 points down the stretch, including eight straight free throws to secure the win.

"We knew tonight was our first step," he said. "Come Monday night, you'll see the team that came out and gave 100 percent and played hard all season."

The play of La. Tech star Paul Millsap was not a factor at all, especially after Tigers center Akin Akingbala got three fouls on him with eight minutes left in the first half. Millsap did finish with 19 points and nine rebounds, but it was Akingbala that was the true force.

"You still want to play," Akingbala said. "We haven't played our best and we're going to step it up against Louisville."

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