Tigers Aiming for the Big Apple

CLEMSON – With the first-round win out of the way, Clemson basketball coach Oliver Purnell fully expects that his team will show enough fire and excitement to get them to Madison Square Garden.

What: Mississippi (21-12) at Clemson (22-10)
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum
When: 7 p.m., Monday

"I certainly hope it creates a sharper mental focus for us and understand that the intensity level has to be high from the opening tip," Purnell said. "At the same time, clearly, we're going to have to play better than we did in the opening round if we hope to have a chance to beat Ole Miss."

Monday night's game marks the 25th anniversary from the last time the Tigers faced Mississippi (21-12). That is also the last time the Tigers have lost a home game in the NIT.

However, shooting guard K.C. Rivers has a different take than his coach.

"You've just got to play," he said. "There's no need to get excited about anybody. Just play. These teams are in the tournament and it doesn't matter what conference they're from. It's win or go home."

And to avoid another home loss to the Rebels, Clemson has to maintain its focus and not think about what lies ahead.

"We're not that far away (from going to New York City) and it's kind of exciting, but you just don't want to overlook Ole Miss," Rivers added. "We could play Syracuse at home and you don't want to look at that, either."

Since the insertion of Rivers into the starting lineup, Clemson has played much better, which has forward Trevor Booker believing things are the way they used to be.

"Yeah, the team is coming together like it was when we were playing our best and we still feel like we have something to prove," he said. "And to be two wins away from playing in Madison Square Garden, that's big. Hopefully we can make it there."

Clemson's solid play of late can also be directly attributed to the resurgence of Rivers' shooting from the outside and the dominating inside play of Booker.

"K.C has really had a good year," Purnell said. "He was in a little slump there for a while, but I think he has really bounced back and has been playing well. He has proven to a lot of people that he is more than just a shooter and I think his maturation as a player has allowed him to realize how much more of a complete player he can be. …

"When Trevor hit that wall that most freshmen do, he applied himself and he worked harder. It allowed him to get better. I think that wall is mental and a good way to get past it is to be distracted and do something positive. I was glad to see him work hard and stay with it."

Mississippi (21-12)
G 10 Todd Abernethy (6-1, 190) 11.0 ppg, 5.5 apg
G 12 Clarence Sanders (6-1, 180) 16.3 ppg, 2.5 apg
C 44 Dwayne Curtis (6-8, 280) 12.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg
F 50 Kenny Williams (6-8, 240) 7.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg
F 20 Bam Doyne (6-4, 180) 15.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg

Clemson (22-10)
G 3 Vernon Hamilton (6-0, 195) 12.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg
G 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 197) 11.5 ppg, 4.2 apg
C 35 Trevor Booker (6-7, 215) 10.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg
F 1 K.C. Rivers (6-5, 210) 13.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg
F 40 James Mays (6-9, 222) 12.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg

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