No. 18 Clemson and the Gamecocks each wanted to come out with loads of energy, focus and determination, but only the Tigers did as they built a 17-point lead during the opening 10 minutes.
From there, the Clemson made its free throws in uncanny fashion and withstood a few Gamecock runs to get the 85-74 victory Saturday afternoon at a full Littlejohn Coliseum. It's the fourth straight win for the Tigers the series.
"Coach Purnell fired us up and we fired ourselves up," said Tigers guard K.C. Rivers, who led his team with 24 points. "With a big rivalry game, we wanted to ratchet it up with our intensity and we did that."
In that opening 10 minutes, Clemson (6-0) jumped to a 10-2 advantage behind two 3-pointers from Cliff Hammonds. It increased the lead to 31-14 with 9:36 left in the half thanks to scoring on eight straight possessions.
"Clearly the story of the game was written in the first half," Odom said. "It kind of took the steam out of us early with the onslaught they threw at us. … We have not approached any of these four games with a maximum of effort."
At that point, all the Tigers had to do for the rest of the game for it to be theirs was not miss free throws and not go into a massive scoring drought.
Neither happened as Clemson shot well from the field and hit 19-of-23 free throws. Rivers made all six of his free throw attempts, while freshman point guard Demontez Stitt drained 9-of-10 from the line.
"I'm proud of my guys for making free throws," Rivers said. "I'm proud of me for making mine."
Another reason Rivers and crew should be proud is that they played their last two games against major programs and won each despite not having two key seniors, including one starter, in forwards James Mays and Sam Perry.
"I think it says something about experience and it says something about depth," Purnell said. "Not only did we use nine, but all nine were effective."
It stands to reason that the absence of the two seniors will only benefit the team during ACC play due to the fact that players like David Potter, Raymond Sykes and Jerai Grant are getting so much more playing time than they would have otherwise.
On Saturday, the three of them combined to score 12 points, grab 13 rebounds and get four blocks.
That is a situation that hasn't been lost on the team.
"I think it shows a lot of maturity for the younger guys," senior guard Cliff Hammonds said of Clemson's ability to win without Mays and Perry. "It's unfortunate that they're out, but it's a good thing for Raymond and David."
Added Rivers, "When we get them back, it's just going to make us better. We're a solid ball club without out Sam and James and when we get them back, we're going to be a lot better."
Note: With 6:50 left in the game, South Carolina guard Zam Fredrick went in for a breakaway layup, but missed it due to a hard foul by Terrence Oglesby. Fredrick took exception to the hard foul and threw a mini right hook in the direction of Oglesby.
No technical foul was called on Fredrick because the refs didn't see it. Odom said he didn't see it, either. However, Odom said he would look at the tape and administer his own punishment if he believes Fredrick took a swing.
For his part, Fredrick said it wasn't a swing.
"I never swung at Oglesby," the Georgia Tech transfer said. "I sat out all last year (because of transferring). I'm not trying to get suspended. I was trying to get my arm loose."
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