A Sign of Life

CLEMSON – A season that was on the verge of the biggest collapse in ACC history has found new life. The NCAA Tournament is no longer the punchline to a joke regarding Clemson basketball. It is still a real, albeit slim, option.

The Tigers, on their deathbed, managed to play an inspired five minutes of basketball where they did all the things necessary to win as they outlasted pesky Miami in a 74-70 victory in overtime Wednesday night in front of a very disappointing crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum.

In overtime, Clemson scored on its last eight possessions, made 7-of-10 free throws and senior guard Vernon Hamilton scored six of his 10 points to ice the win.

With the victory, Clemson (20-9, 6-9 ACC) puts an end to a four-game losing streak and reaches the 20-win mark for the first time in the regular season since 1996-97.

"There's nothing more important to us as a team than a win, no matter how we got it," Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said. "Now we have a chance to put a run together to end the season."

If Clemson is to make it to the NCAA Tournament, it needs to win in its finale Sunday at Virginia Tech and then win a couple in next week's ACC Tournament.

"If we would have dropped tonight's game, it would have made things very difficult," Hamilton said. "We would have had to almost win the ACC Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament."

But as the final minutes wound down in regulation, it appeared as though Clemson would lose yet another game because it couldn't score.

Trevor Booker's dunk with 5:04 left was the last time the Tigers scored in regulation. They even missed their last six free throws, any one of which could have sealed the win.

As a team, Clemson was just 7-of-21 from the free throw line in regulation.

The drought enabled Miami (11-18, 4-11 ACC) to battle back from a 56-49 disadvantage with 7:14 to play.

"It seems like we've taken a step back shooting free throws," said Mays, who was 2-for-9 from the line. "We had been shooting them pretty good."

Clemson had a chance to win it at the end, but a shot by Mays inside never drew iron and the game went into overtime.

Miami coach Frank Haith wasn't happy with the officiating in the closing minutes of regulation and in overtime.

"I thought some plays were tough calls against us that really hurt us," he said. "I'm going to have to watch the tape. … We play zone for the most of the game and they press most of the game and they shoot 31 free throws and we shot 12."

Junior forward James Mays paced Clemson with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Jack McClinton led Miami with 21 points. Teammate Anthony Harris added 15.

Clemson led 30-27 at halftime after each team struggled to have any sort of offensive consistency over the first 20 minutes of play. It was so bad that the two squads combined to go just 1-for-9 from the free throw line.

"That certainly wasn't a work of art," Purnell said. "But the thing I'm most proud of is our guys found a way to win."

The junior was reinserted into the starting lineup after a two game absence and didn't disappoint as he scored 19 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out four assists, had two blocks and one steal in 35 minutes of play. The only down side for Mays was his 2-of-9 shooting from the free throw line.

TURNING POINT: When Miami didn't win at the end of regulation in the midst of another five-minute scoring drought by Clemson, the Tigers found new life in overtime and played well, scoring on eight straight possessions and making 7-of-10 from the line.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It could be probably better to win this way because of the things we went through. We're certainly not broken. That strengthens out confidence it takes away that "here we go again" feeling," Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said.

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