Despite some sluggish play in the middle half, the Tigers acted as ranked teams do and played well down the stretch to pull away and get the 72-60 victory over Georgia Southern Tuesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.
"You could tell we had a couple of days off," Clemson senior point guard Vernon Hamilton said. "It took a little bit to get our legs under us. I don't think I've ever had a layoff that long and it showed."
The Tigers improve to 11-0 for the second straight year, while Georgia Southern drops to 6-5.
"I thought (the layoff) affected us some," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "I thought it affected us more mentally than physically."
Purnell said coming into the game, he was concerned that his team would come out flat or start strong then run out of steam and go into somewhat of a lull. The latter is what happened on this night.
The Tigers held a 22-7 lead eight minutes remaining in the first half and showed no signs of rust and went into halftime with a commanding 34-21 advantage.
However, the very athletic Eagles battled their way back by taking advantage of Clemson's letdown in intensity.
"The legs weren't really there," Clemson forward James Mays said. "We played in spurts tonight."
Georgia Southern trimmed the lead to 58-49 with 5:38 left to play after Louis Graham scored on a dunk. He finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
But from that point, the Tigers went on a 10-1 run to lead 68-50 with 3:13 and end all doubts that they were going to remain undefeated and ranked in the top 25.
The run was spurred by a couple of offensive rebounds and put-backs by Mays, who finished with 22 points and seven rebounds, and forward Trevor Booker, who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
"I thought that if we could have gotten it down to six that they might have pressed a little and we would have been relaxed," Eagles coach Jeff Price said. "We kept fighting to get it to 10 and we finally did that. That's when they made a couple of big plays that beat us.
"Those kind of plays break your spirit and break your back."
Also helping Clemson were the 24 turnovers it forced the Eagles into committing. Price believes having played nine of 11 games on the road may have had something to do with that high number.
Nonetheless, the Tigers realize that from here on out, every team is going to give them its best shot. That's the territory that comes with being ranked.
"It's a different feeling because nobody on the team has ever played on a ranked team," Mays said. "The target on our chest and backs is getting bigger. Nobody wants to go back to the old Clemson."
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