Tigers Arrive in New York

NEW YORK – Immediately following Clemson's victory over Syracuse that propelled the Tigers to the NIT semifinals, head coach Oliver Purnell sat down with his team and gave them a list of three goals that he wanted them to accomplish while in New York City.

What: Air Force (26-8) at Clemson (24-10)
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: 9 p.m., Tuesday

"The first is to win the NIT Championship," Purnell said. "Second is to enjoy the New York experience and the third is to come even closer together as a team and to celebrate this team because this team has been through a lot during the course of the year.

"The reason that we're here is because we stayed together and been resilient and we want to continue that by coming even closer together in the short time we have left as a team, we've got a much better chance of achieving those other two goals."

Clemson (24-10) began trying to achieve those second and third goals when they players arrived in town Sunday night, but the most important one of winning the NIT gets underway against Air Force (26-8) at approximately 9:30 p.m., Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, the world's most famous arena.

But beating the Falcons, who many believe should have been selected to play in the NCAA Tournament, isn't going to be easy.

Air Force starts four seniors and one junior and has wins against teams such as Wake Forest (won by 36), Stanford (won by 34), Colorado (won by 38), George Washington (won by 14) and UNLV (won by six).

In their first-round game against Austin Peay, all five starters for the Falcons scored exactly 13 points, which means, like Clemson, they are a balanced scoring team.

Air Force also runs that unorthodox, Princeton-style offense, which uses a lot of backdoors, screens and relies heavily on the 3-point shot.

"I think it's definitely a contrast in styles," Purnell said. "As always, our defensive concentration and focus will go a long way to determine whether we win or not, because we've got to take away their 3-point shooting, because close to best in the country in three categories – 3-point shooting, field goal shooting and free throw shooting. And we can't guard the free throws, but the other two we can."

Purnell's not kidding about the Falcons being so good in so many areas.

In field goal percentage, they are 12th in the nation, fifth in free throw percentage, second in scoring defense, 14th in 3-point percentage and second in the nation in having the fewest number of turnovers.

"We've got to keep their percentages down in those areas to win the game," Purnell said.

Air Force (26-8)
G 5 Matt McCraw (6-2, 185) 10.8 ppg, 3.7 apg
G 12 Tim Anderson (6-3, 180) 9.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg
C 45 Nick Welch (6-8, 212) 9.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg
F 21 Jacob Burtschi (6-6, 225) 13.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg
F 34 Dan Nwaelele (6-5, 206) 14.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg

Clemson (24-10)
G 3 Vernon Hamilton (6-0, 195) 12.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg
G 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 197) 11.6 ppg, 4.0 apg
C 35 Trevor Booker (6-7, 215) 10.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg
F 1 K.C. Rivers (6-5, 210) 13.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg
F 40 James Mays (6-9, 222) 12.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg

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