Tigers Rip USC; Top 25 Could be Next

COLUMBIA – South Carolina basketball coach Dave Odom stated Friday afternoon that if Clemson came down to the capital city and left with a win, the Tigers should be ranked in the top 25. In fact, he said he had no doubt it would happen.

Well, Clemson strolled into the Colonial Center, smacked the Gamecocks around and left with a 74-53 victory to improve to 9-0 on the season and put together a three-game winning streak over its instate rival.

The blowout win for the Tigers is the first time since 1938 and 1939 that they have beaten South Carolina by at least 19 points in consecutive games. Moreover, it's also the first time since the 1949-50 season that they have won consecutive road games by 20 points or more.

"It was our best basketball game all year long," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said emphatically.

Considering this marks the third win over a power conference for Clemson and that more than half of its wins have come away from Littlejohn Coliseum, Odom may be right.

The Tigers think he is.

"A lot of people say this and that, but I think my team is the greatest team in the world," said Clemson forward James Mays, who led all scorers with 21 points. "I think we should be in the top 25."

It was Mays that helped push the lead for the Tigers up toward the 20-point margin late in the second half.

While it was Mays got the big numbers, most of his scoring came after Clemson had a double-digit lead. Reserves K.C. Rivers, Julius Powell and Raymond Sykes are the ones that were more or less responsible for the Tigers getting the lead in the first place.

With Mays and forward Trevor Booker on the bench with foul trouble throughout much of the first half, the three sophomores responded as though they were grizzled veterans.

Powell came in and immediately started burying shots from the outside. In fact, Clemson had been 0-for-11 from beyond the arc before he drilled one from the right wing to give the Tigers a 15-13 lead with 7:07 left in the half.

South Carolina never had the lead again.

All told, Powell had seven points in 11 minutes of play in the first half.

Just before intermission, Rivers drained two 3-pointers in the final minute to give the Tigers a comfortable margin.

"They made two 3-pointers in the last minute, which takes the lead from three to nine, which really discouraged our kids, and it shouldn't have," Odom said.

While Powell and Rivers were carrying the load offensively, Sykes was doing it defensively.

In eight minutes, Sykes had four rebounds, three points and two blocked shots.

It all added up to a 31-22 halftime lead for Clemson.

"We just try to come in and give the team whatever it needs," Sykes said. "Some of us score and others of us play defense."

From that point, it was all Clemson as they pulled away from the Gamecocks (4-2).

Powell finished with 13 points, while Rivers had 10. Sykes grabbed six rebounds and added an assist in the second half.

Because of the strong reserve play and solid play by the starters in the second half, that's why Purnell believes it was his team's best game of the season.

"Our bench has been important to us all year long," Purnell said. "They are important and will continue to be so as we go along towards our goals."

Again, maybe Odom is right. With a strong bench and starting five, Clemson might deserve to be in the top 25.

"I really feel like we need to be in the top 25," point guard Vernon Hamilton said. "I believe we can play with anybody in the top 25."

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